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Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Mystery Solved: ‘Clue’ Kills It at the Hippodrome

I confess not being a player of the old Hasbro board game Clue as a kid. I was more of a Monopoly kind of guy, whose experience was invaluable in helping me buy up beachfront property in Atlantic City and to get out of jail free so many times (j/k). However, you did not have to play Clue to enjoy the laugh-a-minute Clue: A New Comedy murder mystery as it is appearing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour.

Written by Sandy Rustin based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price, Clue: A New Comedy is inspired by the classic board game and the 1985 cult film with the same title. 

Veteran director Casey Hushion helms this rapid-fire, tight, well-paced slapstick comedy in a 75 minute window with an abundance of physical humor and quick sarcastic rejoinders. A talented ensemble cast executes the madcap zaniness with aplomb.

A gothic deserted New England mansion—Boddy Manor—is the scene of a dinner party on this dark and stormy night in 1954. (Come to think of it, when is a night not dark?)  The six mysterious invited guests are given aliases—Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. They all have their own individual skeletons to hide but the one thing they have in common is that they are being blackmailed by the host.

In keeping with the board game, each guest is handed a weapon: a revolver, a rope, a lead pipe, a wrench, a candlestick and a dagger. Soon the host is murdered, then a visitor to the mansion is killed and is followed by others.

"...an abundance of physical humor and quick sarcastic rejoinders."

Bodies are turning up at Boddy Manor and given the secrets the guests hold and the fear of exposure by the blackmailer, the motives are ever-present with each guest and the butler suspecting another amid the mayhem. And some of this fear can be traced to McCarthyism that was frightening during the time, fostering even more paranoia about their lives.

Because Clue is a whodunit with dizzying twists and turns, I will not divulge the solution to the madness since every performance contains the same conclusion. So, no spoilers here.

The ensemble cast of Clue consists of in alphabetical order: Mariah Burks as the Cook, John Treacy Egan as Colonel Mustard, Michelle Elaine as Miss Scarlet, Joanna Glushak as Mrs. Peacock, Tari Kelly as Mrs. White, Mark Price as Wadsworth, John Shartzer as Mr. Green, Jonathan Spivey as Professor Plum, Alex Syiek as Mr. Boddy, Teddy Trice as the Cop, and Elisabeth Yancey as Yvette

All of these actors possess strong comedic timing and solid physical humor. As Mr. Green, John Shartzer particularly stands out with his physical comedy and antics. Other standouts include Michelle Elaine as Miss Scarlet and Mark Price as Wadsworth.

The cast has their individual moments to shine using their accents, acting-comedic skills and body language, but they also jell in perfect harmony with one another. From my standpoint, the entire cast excels in this work.

Another star is the accomplished scenic designer, Lee Savage. The Boddy Manor is elegant, sophisticated and detailed. The main room with its high ceilings, dark wood-paneled walls and two large chandeliers provide a perfect contrast to the zaniness unfolding on stage. Other rooms, such as the billiards room, the library, the kitchen, etc. open up at the sides flawlessly via turntables making for smooth transitions. Hushion’s direction is precise.

Also, lighting designer Ryan O’Gara does an excellent job employing lighting effects to accent the numerous dramatic moments and punch lines and illuminating the never-ending thunderstorm that night.

Jen Caprio’s costume design is effective in taking us back to the 50’s with style.

What music exists it serves as background similar to what you would hear in a thirties movie. As the main cast shuffles in well-choreographed movements from room to room as a group in search of clues, they do so comically to the background music.

Clue is a darkly funny, sometimes silly, high-energy, well-directed and performed play with most lines landing on the target. But these lines do come quickly so be prepared for that; it could seem like a whirlwind.  

This is a unique experience, and why would anyone want to miss this fine body of work? I don’t have a clue.

Running time. One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.

Clue: A New Comedy runs through May 12 the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos by Evan Zimmerman

The actual Clue board
courtesy of Wikipedia