THE BUTLER DID ITby Walter Marks and Peter Marks
Garland Civic Theatre
Director - Ryan Matthieu Smith
Stage Manager - Michelle M. Claerhout
Set Design - Ryan Matthieu Smith
Costume Design - Ryan Matthieu Smith
Sound Design - Justin Labosco
Light Design - Kathryn Fullbright
Artistic Director - Kyle McClaran
Property Design - Ryan Mattieu Smith
Raymond Butler / Robert - Tom McWhorter
Aldo, the butler / Michael - Sufyan Elmoumi
Angela Butler / Natalie - Kristen Walker Hatten
Victoria Butler / Claudia - Tenaya Griffin
Anthony J. Lefecourt - Robert Long
Detective Mumford / Sam - R. Bradford Smith
Reviewed Performance: 4/11/2014
Reviewed by Amy Thurmond, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Walking into the smaller theatre of the Patty Granville Arts Center, mood music roared, blasting head bopping tunes from the 1930’s and the 1980’s. Unfortunately, the music was playing at such a loud level, the finely keen mood quickly diminished. Justin Labosco’s sound design was rich and full, eerie and slightly disturbing, bordering on cra-cra. It seemed quite representative of Lefcourt’s outlandish behavior and declining grasp on reality. Labosco’s design succeeded in maintaining that ideal recipe -a pinch of magic, a dash of desperation, a trace of hope and a heap of histrionic undertones - needed to build that anticipation as we all wait to find out whodunit.
The Butler Did It was billed as a whodunit thriller. That sounded exciting and suspenseful. But watching the show Friday night, the actual book of work seems loose, lackluster on the suspense and thrill factors and just rather boring. Listening to the dialogue made me wonder if some of the stronger players added a few lines of their own (further validating that there were holes in the story).
A single interior living room, circa 1930’s, served as the sole focal point for the entire action of the play. The set was beautifully crafted and designed by Ryan Matthieu Smith. The ostentatious flares, the proud peacock theme (perhaps intended to hint of director, Lefcourt’s haughty vanity), made peeling back layers or different possible interpretations fun and reason for discussion amongst friends. This crisp cookie cutter design went far beyond anything common.
Smith, who also designed properties for the show, shared his variable feast of a pallet in a grand way. From the matching vibrant blue vases atop the mantle, to the sparkling peacock-like feather decorations woven throughout the Christmas tree, to the seductive deep crimson settee at center stage (stunning in its architecture and design), to the quaint fringed barstools, the set was a glorious invitation to embrace your own inner flamboyance.
Robert Long played Anthony J. Lefcourt, the show within the show’s teetering director. He led the cast with a definite presence, albeit somewhat maniacal and seemingly unraveled, yet in control of all he could possibly be in control of considering. Leaning towards the melodramatic side, Long employed stereotypical gestures and phrasings often associated with an over the top theatrical stage director. Carrying the majority of the dialogue, Long held his own beautifully and kept the pace of the show ever-forward-moving with an abounding energy. On a down note, Long’s delivery amounted to a lot of shouting, often incomprehensibly so. While there were a few notably softened exchanges, his delivery otherwise stayed at full throttle. By the last scene of the show, I had a hard time understanding his pivotal monologue explaining his brilliantly planned answer of whodunit.
Meowing her way across the stage, Kristen Walker Hatten played Angela Butler/Natalie and milked the part for all it was worth. She guffawed, she puckered, she shimmied, she strutted, she groped, she seduced….simply put, she did it ALL and then some! Hatten made Natalie a down on her luck, slightly aging, almost has been, a star in the show within the show. Her Southern drawl, constant adjusting of “her girls and an overall sensual self-awarenessgarnered worthy praise from the audience. Hatten’s comic timing and presence were a treat. She took every opportunity presented her and capitalized on them. Hatten’s quit wit and charm proved a highlight of the night.
Tom McWhorter took on the role of the aging has-been Robert (who played Raymond Butler, wife to Angela Butler, father to Victoria Butler in the show within the show). McWhorter was a somewhat soft presence amongst a group of very gregarious players. However, McWhorter had spectacularly funny moments. Facial expressions were used wisely and showed a true comic ability. Though playing a somewhat milquetoast chap, McWhorter stays in the game to the end. In fact, there were moments that McWhorter’s performance reminded me of the character John Van Horn from the movie, Tootsie.
Sugary sweet in the ingénue role, Tenaya Griffin was a treat as Victoria Butler/Claudia. Wide-eyed innocence headlined Griffin’s run. As Claudia, she captured the innocence and excitement that comes with a first leading role. At times, Griffin seemed bored with the action happening on stage. More often than not, however, Griffin was invested, involved and batting her beautiful eyes at anyone who might help get Claudia ahead.
The Butlers butler, Aldo, in the show within the show, was quite dapper as portrayed by his actor, Michael. Both memorable characters were portrayed effectively by Sufyan Elmoumi. Long and lanky, his posture was admirable. As butler Aldo, Elmoumi maintained a presence that lurked and leered, making him appear a prime suspect. As Michael, he comes off as a goofy Romeo type, hot for an older woman. His presence sunk into the background somewhat in group scenes, but when paired with Hatten, he was front and center and held his own.
Rounding out the tight cast, R. Bradford Smith portrayed Detective Mumford/Sam. Smith seemed to enjoy this role. Scenes as Detective Mumford are based on timing, and Smith worked it well, getting audience reaction almost on queue. As Sam, Smith had more room to capitalize on his years of experience to his benefit and portrayed a bitter but genuine actor who just wants to work. He created a likeable character and fit the bill for both Sam and Detective Mumford.
As a whole, the cast had a great challenge going from one character to another, changing accents, costumes and accessories as much as character. The transitions made in accents were done well. All but Long had two accents to maintain. Hats off to the ensemble for this achievement.
Director Ryan Matthieu Smith had a lot on his creative plate. He put together a solid, silly caper. His talents clearly extend beyond directing. He designed the set, the costumes and the properties, making him a theatrical, trifecta superhero. His cast kept the timing, managed to develop memorable characters and successfully mastered the ability to play multiple roles. Clearly, his direction was the common denominator that pulled all those wonderful things together. Smith’s artistic eye resulted in glamorous, glittering sparkly joy where costumes and accessories come into play. The pajama scene was fun. Who doesn’t love a slumber party? The most memorable costumes were, by far, Raymond Butler’s dapper suit, Michael’s 80’s classic look (Member’s Only jacket, rolled up pants and loafers with no socks), Victoria’s luxurious cherry jammies and Detective Mumford’s Dick Tracy-esque suit. The plethora of sparkly accessories was fun, fun, fun! Smith’s creative eye permeated every aspect of this production and made it one worth seeing.
The one significant problem with the production is the lack of real suspense to find out whodunit. The build at the top of the show sets things up strongly.
Detective Mumford’s entrance escalates that quest for the real murderer. But from then on the whodunit rather becomes, “Would someone please just do it?"
The book is weak in its suspense and thrill factors. The actors could have played up the significance of the whodunit, but where would it have taken them if the book didn’t do it? A fine line always has to be walked when a piece just doesn’t come together. It isn’t a matter of the cast coming together. They gel well, in fact. But how much creative freedom an actor has with a playwright’s script is so very limited. And when you tie in a character who is becoming less and less stable, your hopes of anything viable coming from him seems a waste The Butler Did It was a fun, dedicated effort. The cast and crew deserve kudos. In community theatre, those kudos come from applause. So I implore you...plan a night of live theatre, experience a great escape from everyday life and choose Garland Civic Theatre’s loopy whodunit, The Butler Did It. You will gasp, giggle, maybe even blush…In other words, you will have a good time! And if you find out whodunit, let me know (WINK, WINK)!
Garland Civic Theatre
The Patty Granville Arts Center, 300 North 5th Street, Garland, Texas 75040
Runs through May 3rd
Friday- Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinees Saturday April 19th and May 3rd at 2:30 pm, and Sunday April 13th and April 27th at 2:30 pm. There is an additional performance on Thursday, April 17th at 7:30 pm. There is no performance on Easter Sunday.
Ticket prices are $22.00, including service fee. There are discounts for KERA members and groups of ten or more.
Call the Arts Center Box Office at 972-205-2790 or order online at http://www.garlandartsboxoffice.com/