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THE BUTLER DID IT

THE BUTLER DID IT

by Tim Kelly

Allen's Community Theatre

Directors: JOE BARR and GENA GRAHAM
Stage Manager: KRISTINA ROSETTE
Costumes: DEBBIE STEPHENSON
Set Design: LAMAR GRAHAM
Set Dress: EVIE BOWIE
Props: MADDY MASLOW
Lighting Design: GREG COTTON
Sound Design: RICHARD STEPHENS, SR.

CAST
Haversham: MAXINE FRAUENHEIM
Rita: KERRA SIMMS
Miss Maple: NANCY CECCO
Father White: AUDIE PRESTON
Chandler Marlowe: RUSSELL SIMS
Louie Fan: DOUG SMETZER
Rick Carlyle: TED STRAHAN
Laura Carlyle: LAURA JENNINGS
Peter Flimsey: CHUCK BARLOW
Charity Haze: KATHLEEN VAUGHT
Mabel Dupre: JULIE STEPHENSON
Pharoh Link: STEVEN FIELDS


Reviewed Performance: 1/27/2019

Reviewed by Darlene Singleton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

It was the playwright Tim Kelly's notion to parody not just Dame Agatha Christies’ perennial Miss Marple (here called Miss Maple,) but a host of other hero-heroines of the genre, among them Charlie Chan (alias Louie Fan,) Nick and Nora Charles (Rick and Laura), who enter carrying their ‘stuffed’ dog, and Sherlock Holmes, who appears pseudonymously as Peter Flimsey. The characters are all supposed to be the authors who are disguising themselves as their own creations for a weekend of ''jolly fun for financial reward,'' at Miss Maple's estate. As a note – there is no Butler actually in the story, but there are many colorful sleuths drawn from fictional characters of the 1930s and 1940s who all eventually find themselves bamboozled when a real murder occurs.

The drawing room set designed by Lamar Graham and dressed by Evie Bowie is visually pleasing and has the needed comfortable look one would expect for an isolated and fogbound estate on the fictional Turkey Island, off the coast of San Francisco.

As soon as the house lights went dark for the start of the show, I quickly wondered what? … no house announcements? … no promotion of the theater? … then the opening music starts (may I add this was an excellent choice by sound designer, Richard Stephens, Sr.) and as the center stage lights pop-on the co-directors (Joe Barr and Gena Graham) pop-in through the kitchen door. As the two take center stage they deliver the house announcements inviting us all to enjoy the theater’s new comfy chairs and to partake of the ‘spicy’ beverages from the concession booth. They were fully energized and very excited for the audience to see the culmination of their hard work and I fully expected the eagerness coming from them was setting the tone for the next two hours. And, the enthusiasm did continue as each cast member took the stage, BUT… (oh wait, I get ahead of myself, more to come on that topic a little later).

Miss Maple (played by Nancy Cecco) is believable as the baffled hostess who, one day, plans to open a chain of detective bookstores. The story opens as she invites seven murder-mystery writers into her home for “a little charade”. When a real corpse is revealed she hastily offers money to whichever of her guests can find the murderer first. I was distracted every time she (and the rest of the cast) pronounced CHARADE – using the English version vs the American version of the pronunciation always caught my attention and pulled me away from the scene at hand (after all, the setting is in America).

Prowling about the house is an ill-fated maid, Haversham (played by Maxine Frauenheim), who is really a convict serving time in Miss Maple's manor as part of a prison work program - she was found guilty of ''some unpleasantness with a hatchet''. Frauenheim played the irritating, obnoxious maid believably well. Her maid attire was ill-fitted (on purpose) and she continuously was wiping her runny nose with her arm or back of hand which resulted in her ‘on-point’ portrayal of the crude maid. She is one of those characters you might initially dislike, but by the end of the show you realize she really does a very good job in being totally gross.

Lurking around the stair well and various corners of the room is Rita (played by Kerra Simms), a prim and proper social secretary, who stalks around clutching her hat box and sneaking up on everybody. Whatever could be in the large hat box she carries everywhere? Simms was my favorite to watch onstage. She was constant in her characterization of the secretary and her expressions (or subtle lack of) kept me totally interested in watching her. Her backward glare at whoever was irritating her was really hilarious to observe.

The guests who oblige Miss Maple to find the murderer round out this ensemble cast and include Rick Carlyle (played by Ted Strahan) who is the first to be murdered. The scene where he slowly falls to the floor received a huge round of laughter from the audience as he was ‘dying’, ‘dying’, and then ‘dead’. Well done Mr. Strahan.

Father White (played by Audie Preston) as the scholarly cleric introduces us to the hidden passage behind the bookcase. I am never disappointed when I see Mr. Preston onstage. He is a wonderful character actor and is very enticing to watch in any role.

Louie Fan (played by Doug Smetzer) who never gets anything right, comes off as the prize boob. Smetzer is a wonderful actor and his portrayal of a wannabe Charlie Chan was very fun to watch - he consistently gives all he’s got to the stage and his audience – even when he is playing the ‘perfect fool’.

Peter Flimsey (played by Chuck Barlow) shows up dressed from head to toe like Sherlock Holmes to include a wonderful vintage cape and very large magnifying glass. Early on this character blends into the woodwork, but Mr. Barlow brings Flimsey to life in the second act and was a pleasure to watch. His scene of how the murder obviously happened made me sit up and take notice of this future Tony Award hopeful.

Chandler Marlowe (played by Russell Sims) is a smooth counterpart of crime fiction's Sam Spade character, hard-living and quick with the quips. His long-term interaction with a small trash can was a bit distracting for my guest – she actually wanted to help him get it off his foot.

Laura Carlyle (played by Laura Jennings) is stunning as the imitation of Nora Charles and her costuming is perfect. Laura aims at fully entertaining the audience through her expressions that are highly exaggerated – with a roll of her eyes or a pout of her lips her intent was always clearly to hear the audience laughter.

Charity Haze (played by Kathleen Vaught) comes on strong as the fearless adventuress who has arrived on the island by helicopter in the middle of the storm. Vaught comes across as confident and resilient and her stage presence creates an impressive character on the small stage.

One more shout out to the co-directors, Barr and Graham, on the stage placement of this cast. Everything was extremely visually pleasing – their blocking across the stage enhanced the story from the opening scenes to the closing bows.

And, here is the continuation of my earlier BUT… Of all the scripts available for production I kept questioning why ACT chose this one. Over the years, this play has received a really bad rap from various critics, and I must admit – the negative reviews are out there for a reason. This was not great theatre. It is, however, not all that bad once you settle into the comfy seats and partake in at least one ‘spicy beverage’. The talented actors on stage are amusing to watch and if you keep in mind that this is a silly murder mystery spoof and if you just take it as it is, you'll have an enjoyable time.

ACT is presenting a ‘season to die for’ and upcoming shows include MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940 (March/April), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (July), and MISS NELSON IS MISSING (August).

THE BUTLER DID IT
at ALLEN’S COMMUNITY THEATRE
1210 E Main St #300, Allen, TX 75002
Phone: 844-822-8849
Through Feb 10, 2019