Friday, November 14, 2014

Clue Is Madcap Fun, Despite Missed Opportunities

by Matthew Falduto
Photos by Joel T. Lahey

Elijah Jones as Wadsworth;
Zhen E. Rammelsberg as Mrs. Ho
Cedar Rapids - The last time I was in the Scottish Rite Temple, I saw a fantastic production of Waiting for Godot. That was nearly nine years ago. As I found my seat to the preview performance of RHCR's production of Clue: The Play, I noticed that the performance space remains much the same, and it's a bit of a shock more theatre isn't done there, with its raked seating and excellent stage.

Clue: The Play is based on the movie of the same name. The movie, while not very successful commercially, became a cult classic. I approached the play version with some excitement - I consider the movie one the funniest films I've ever seen. It's based on the board game, so as characters we have Mr. Green and Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard. There are a few additional characters not in the game - the butler Wadsworth being the most instrumental to the evening. He guides the action as we learn that all of the guests are there because they're being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy. And then - no surprise - Boddy is murdered and what follows is madcap mayhem as the guests try to figure out "who done it."

I was excited to see how RHCR would translate the movie to the stage, with all of the challenges and opportunities live theatre affords. Unfortunately, this isn't a production that embraces those stage possibilities, but rather one that tries to slap the movie onto the stage, leaving it to pale in comparison to the original. At one point, they play a video of the show's actors performing scenes they couldn't fit on stage. All this does is remind us of the professionally made movie version of this show. We came to see a live theatrical production. It would have been better if they'd used some of the conventions of theatre to show these scenes.

I will say the set (designed by Matt Ford, with Keith Diefenderfer) was impressive. All of the rooms we'd expect are arrayed on the stage and in the space in front of the stage. They are separated by half walls and have half doors, allowing the audience to see into each room while still dividing one room from another. It gives the suggestion of the board from the game, which is a nice touch. More choices like this would have really helped the show.

One choice that didn't really work was using an actor dressed from head to toe in a black skintight outfit to act as the murderer and kill the unfortunate individuals who happen to show up at the house. For the movie, they could do a closeup on the killings and so not show the killer, leaving the audience in suspense. On stage, we'd see the killer, so this actor in black took the actual killer's place, preserving the mystery. Unfortunately, it wasn't immediately clear what was happening with the actor in black. I figured it out, but I think I was helped by the fact that I knew the movie and could put two and two together. 

Bryant Duffy as Mr. Green
Many of the actors were excellent. Particularly good was Diana DeSerano who, as Miss Scarlet, commanded the stage with an easy self confidence necessary for the character. Bryant Duffy was also excellent as the nebbish Mr. Green. He fully committed to the silliness of the role, which could not be said of all of the actors, some of whom seemed slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps the stand out of the cast was Elijah Jones as Wadsworth, the butler. He brought the ending of the play to life with a wonderfully manic performance as he raced this way and that explaining "who done it."

The tempo of the show lagged in the first act. The dialogue needed to be quicker and the actions more precise. Consequently, a lot of the humorous lines and actions didn't land. The second act was better, particularly when Wadsworth was rushing everyone around the stage. His energy really moved the show forward to a funny conclusion. I also really appreciated that they chose to stage all three endings. Hopefully, the tempo will go up a notch or two as the production continues through the weekend.

Overall, I think there are a lot of missed opportunities in this production, choices that could have embraced what makes live theatre an exciting and intimate creative experience. Still, there's a lot of madcap fun in the show and if you're looking to see what the movie looks like on stage, this production will satisfy that desire. It runs through Sunday. Information available at the RHCR website.

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