By Lynn Venhaus
With its grown-up allure, the board game “Clue” was never just child’s play when we were young. That’s why it also appeals as a movie adaptation and a stage play.
Based on the game, the cult classic 1985 movie reminded everyone of the fun of uncovering the whodunit – with those envious and exotic rooms, like Billiards, Conservatory and Study, and those curious Agatha Christie-like characters in that stately manor, not to mention those old-timey weapons in the tiny manila envelope.
The movie, written by Jonathan Lynn and based on the 1949 British game “Cluedo” by Anthony E. Pratt, successfully blended parody with mystery, similar to the 1976 Neil Simon detective spoof “Murder by Death.”
The zany all-star cast of “Clue” emphasized the madcap quality. Gleefully cavorting, those scenery-chewers and scene-stealers were more enjoyable than the flimsy plot.
And that’s exactly what happens with SATE’s parody, “Classic Mystery Game,” which showcases its agile ensemble as a well-oiled machine.
As directed and co-written by versatile Katy Keating, a jolly good time awaits, for in the capable hands of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, wit and cleverness abounds.
This frothy delight is presented in the spirit of vintage screwball comedies but has a contemporary polish, politicizing “the failure of capitalism in a climate-changing world” for more laughs. They also break the fourth wall here and there, which adds an engaging improvisational element.
Nevertheless, they stick to the basic premise: On a dark and stormy night, six guests arrive at a grand estate for a dinner party, welcomed by the snooty and imperious butler, Wadsworth.
Michael Cassidy Flynn is a marvel of movement and masterful speedy talking. He really shines as the bossy ringleader, swirling and sprinting, and always close to the action. His load was heavy, but he carried it remarkably.
All the visitors are evasive and obviously hiding secrets. Ooh! Let the chicanery begin.
The familiar female players Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White and Miss Scarlet are given added oomph in their characterizations.
Rachel Tibbetts is full-on daffy as colorful Mrs. Peacock, now a ditzy wife to a senator, and easily earns the moniker “Scream Queen.”
Ellie Schwetye carries herself regally as snobby Mrs. White, a suspicious Black Widow with five previous husbands.
Maggie Conroy sashays as sultry Miss Scarlet, the closest thing to a femme fatale in this version, quick with the quips and double-entendres.
The guy roles are a mixed bag – and I think a couple of the overhauled characters are underdone, for two of the personalities don’t seem in sync with their original outlines. Of course, it’s all a matter of interpretation.
As played by Carl Overly Jr., Colonel Mustard is a tight-lipped nervous bachelor and military veteran, but it’s a humdrum part — I was visualizing a more eccentric guy.
Paul Cereghino is Professor Plum, but he’s not the tweedy
academic you expect. He’s a confident ladies-man, a one-time practicing doctor with
a shady past, now working in health insurance. While Cereghino is funny and
glib, I wasn’t sure who the professor was supposed to be.
Will Bonfiglio plays the clumsy Mr. Green, which requires him to fade into the background, make people question “Why is he here?” Yet, graceful Bonfiglio always tends to stand out, even as a bumbling nerd.
Then, there are the rest of the household servants – Kristen Strom is vivacious as the cheeky maid Yvette and Marcy Ann Wiegert is amusing as the easily excitable knife-wielding cook. She also plays a stranded motorist.
As a utility player, Bess Moynihan switches from cop to singing telegram girl to religious zealot knocking at the door.
Reginald Pierre plays the arrogant Mr. Boddy, the host, and as usual, is a commanding presence. He gets to have fun with playing dead. So do Moynihan and Wiegert.
This merry bunch excels at farce and each shows off expert comic timing, which is captivating to witness.
Keating keeps the pace lively and the slapstick flowing as the group dashes around the rooms, with rapidly moving rotating doors.
The patchwork quality of the production – often stylized but then seems on the fly at other times – is endearing.
Special whimsical touches accent the show, especially the hybrid props from the goofy one-dimensional beverages and weapons to a vintage telephone and large inflatable dice, thanks to propmasters Rachel Tibbetts and Bess Moynihan.
As for scenery, a replica of the game board hangs in plain sight, with various rooms lit up for a nifty visual effect. The lighting design by Ben Lewis and the scenic design by Bess Moynihan complement each other well.
Paul Cereghino’s original music adds atmosphere. He also did the sound design, along with Ellie Schwetye. Ryan Lawson-Maeske did a swell job as fight choreographer.
The costumes by Liz Henning were particularly fetching and well-suited to each character – they sure looked elegant when acting silly.
For more laughs, check out the online character bios, highlighting their likes and dislikes. It’s a hoot to read.
Campy, kitschy and thoroughly entertaining, “Classic Mystery Game” is a lighthearted romp that will brighten a dark, dreary winter evening.
SATE opened their 13th season, “Season of Ritual,” with “Classic Mystery Game,” performed from Jan. 30 to Feb. 16, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis. For more information, visit www.slightlyoff.org. Wednesdays are pay-what-you-can.