Regional Reviews: Chicago
The play remains largely faithful to the Jonathan Lynn screenplay, so audiences flocking to the production for a nostalgia fix are likely to be satisfied. Hunter Foster and Eric Price are credited with "additional material," which seems to consist of groaners sprinkled throughout. These are mostly in keeping with the movie's sensibilities, and the cast manages to land most of them. However, the show could likely have stood to shed about fifteen percent of those to prioritize pacing and save the cast a handful of awkward holds for laughs.
One perplexing element of the script that does not quite land is added material emphasizing the McCarthy-era setting. It's not particularly intrusive, as it amounts to just a handful of added or altered lines, but despite director L. Walter Stearns' program note about political divides and suspicion in the contemporary world, none of these additions particularly pay off, given that the production cuts the often-quoted "Communism was just a red herring" joke. Similarly, the choice to have characters lose some recognizable prop or costume element over the course of the play, theoretically to set up each of the multiple endings where one character accuses another, seems to do little other than add awkward dialogue. For example, Miss Scarlet refers, several times, to Professor Plum's "tobacco pipe," presumably to distinguish it from the lead pipe. None of the found elements is particularly critical to the finger-pointing, and it's not as though the characters are not–to a person–eager to sell out anyone and everyone.
But the bumps in the script are minor, and the staging is great fun on balance. Bob Knuth's scenic design captures the heightened, gloomy atmosphere of the Boddy Mansion and the mid-twentieth century vibe. Using a pair of sliding walls to either side of the spacious foyer to mask the (admittedly a touch cramped) study and lounge, as well as four downstage doors, Knuth's layout allows for the appropriate homage to door-slamming comedies as well as good old-fashioned Scooby-Doo runs back and forth across the stage in shadow.
G. "Max" Main IV's lighting design keeps the audience wrapped-up in the rainy night, and subtle use of gobos to create distinct shadows and falls of light help to suggest that the characters are moving through a vast, creaking space. Marquecia Jordan's costumes hit exactly the right notes for each character by evoking, rather than mimicking, the styles from the movie. Jordan gives the audience the flash of white satin lining that they crave as Mrs. White slips off her cape and just enough of Mrs. Peacock's absurd hat without any particular actor having to live with anything limiting or so faithful that it distracts.
The sound design by Kurt Snieckus has all the right crashes of thunder and gunshots, but the fact that the actors are all miked takes a bit of getting used to and complicates some of the asides and throw-away lines.
The cast members are truly a delight, both individually and collectively. Erica Stephan, in particular, stands out as Miss Scarlet. She captures both the campy sex appeal and the intelligence that Lesley Ann Warren brought to the role while still placing her personal stamp on the character.
Jonah D. Winston leans into every single bit of joke dialogue that reveals Colonel Mustard to be an utter idiot, playing each with such perfect comedic timing that he rescues even some of the clunkers and redeems what elsewhere reads as some direction that is reaching too far for the next giant laugh.
Nancy Wagner (Mrs. Peacock) and McKinley Carter (Mrs. White) both make choices that distance them from the untouchable performances of their counterparts in the film. Wagner's dottiness comes across as more explicitly calculating, which gives her version of the character an effective edge of menace. Carter is so self-contained and icy that the sly moments she notably steals with Miss Scarlet and Wadsworth are all the more effective.
As Wadsworth, Mark David Kaplan captures the reserve of the perfect butler while letting through brief moments of mania that pay off in his frantic reenactment of the entire play near the end. Given the strength of his performance, it's unfortunate that he suffers from some of the directorial excesses.
In the main cast, Kelvin Roston Jr. is somewhat underutilized as Mr. Green, though he absolutely delivers when the character's true identity is revealed in the final ending. Andrew Jessop, too, is rather back-burnered as Professor Plum, but he distinguishes himself by playing set-up man for his castmates.
Tiffany T. Taylor makes the absolute most of an expanded role for Yvette, the French maid, and the dual casting of Honey West as both the Cook and the Singing Telegram Girl is well-executed genius. As Mr. Boddy and the many-named Chief of Police, Patrick Byrnes is appropriately oily and swaggering, respectively.
Clue runs through January 1, 2023, at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit www.mercurytheaterchicago.com/