Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage
Director Aaron Posner used a little-known story by Mark Twain as the basis for his book and lyrics, and James Sugg contributed a bouncy bluegrass score, here performed by a robust combo led by musical director Jay Ansill. Round House produced the show in association with the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, and most of the cast is from the Philadelphia area.
The tall tale "Who cares if a story's a lie if it's true?" the cast sings takes place in the tiny village of Deer Lick, Mo., in 1876. Sweet Mary Gray (Erin Weaver), daughter of a poor farmer and his wife (grim Anthony Lawton, determined Sherri L. Edelen), is in love with Hugh Gregory (Ben Dibble), proprietor of the town's "general store, pickle barrel, fishmonger, and clinic." However, their wedding plans hit a snag when Mary's wealthy, vindictive Uncle David (Thomas Adrian Simpson) names her his heir, on the condition that she not marry Hugh.
Into this seething mass of emotional upheaval and family conflict Mary's father thinks love can wait if money's involved comes a Mysterious Stranger (Scott Greer) with a seedy beard, a vaguely French accent, and an eye for Mary and her future inheritance. Who is he, and can he win Mary away from Hugh? Is Hugh really the man he says he is? True to the title, the plot contains exactly one murder, one mystery, and (ultimately) one marriage.
While Posner the director keeps things sprightly, Posner the author often goes for the easy laugh an over-reliance on the similarity in sound between "Hugh," "you," and "who," for example; a fondness for mixed metaphors ("This is a fine kettle of worms!"); and periodic breaking of the fourth wall for comedic effect. Some of this is clever and amusing, as when the murder victim joins the rest of the cast in song. Choreographer Karma Camp has staged the whole thing with a lot of foot-stomping and hand-clapping.
The standout in the cast is Ben Dibble as hapless Hugh. Tall, thin, and rangy, he's a natural physical comic with a delightfully mobile face.
Tony Cisek's busy scenic design definitely adds to the cheerful, slightly ramshackle feeling of the proceedings. The two-level set places the musicians center stage, surrounded by swinging doors, staircases, balconies, and even a noose.
Round House Theatre