Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Classic Mystery Game
What was missing was the stage itself, or rather, the Theater, as a nurturing influence. As written and directed by Katy Keating, this parody version of the movie (originally written by Jonathan Lynn) becomes a mad hodge-podge of a story and the frantic actors who tell it, and (at last) the audience itself, in the intimate confines of the Chapel on Alexander. All that live energy has a salutary effect on the source material, transforming it into something very nearly magical.
But, for that matter, Noises Off never worked for me either, as a film. Farce is like a highly competitive sport: you just have to be there, amidst the shiver and twitch of the horses. And of course, typically, a farce has four or five onstage doors that slam loudly at very precise moments, as if Fate itself were slapping you in the face, again and again. And there's a lot of money at stake and, oh, a dead body or two along the way. Admittedly, there's only one door in Classic Mystery Game, but it's on wheels, and twirled and run around and occasionally barricaded, as if it had multiplied into eight or ten or twelve doors by the time we're done. A blackmailer (Reginald Pierre, elegant in voodoo doctor garb) is dispatched, along with various servants and passersby. And, since there's blackmail, there is (at least implicitly) a lot of money at stake. So, voila!
It all begins with onstage warm-ups for the actors, dressed in Liz Henning's very faithful rendering of the movie's iconic costumes. Then the audience picks cards (which are each face-down) for a victim, a weapon, and a location, as in the original board game. Michael Cassidy Flynn plays the strident British butler who also conducts the drawing. Then there's just a long, steady stream of very nicely choreographed sight gags and groan-worthy laughs. The climax comes much later, when Mr. Flynn is forced into a madcap recounting of at least three different, complex, potential solutions to the murder(s), based on which cards were (allegedly) chosen at the outset. It's a breathless, Herculean effort as he explains each different solution to the murder(s) with increasingly blustery panic. And having a live actor do it right in front of you makes it a lot more exciting, like Ron Liebman, jumping up and down in the big final speech of the original production of Neil Simon's Rumors on Broadway.
Among the highlights in Classic Mystery Game are about a dozen laconic laugh lines from Ellie Schwetye as Mrs. White, who's been widowed at least four times, and Rachel Tibbetts as Ms. Peacock, whose panicked screams are handy signposts along the way to mayhem. Maggie Conroy is Miss Scarlet, with an outstanding "come-hither" look that may mean murder, and Will Bonfiglio gives a much-needed overhaul to the role of Mr. Green, the jittery homosexual of the original movie.
It's a mad conglomeration of most of our brightest young performers, throwing their youth away in a ridiculous extravaganza. And, in the darkest days of winter, you almost certainly won't find anything better than that.
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble's Classic Mystery Game, through February 16, 2019, at the Chapel on Alexander, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.slightlyoff.org.
Performance Ensemble (in order of appearance):