A talented company in the Mercury Theatre with a lot of laughs: Clue is a VERY silly, fun time

photo by Liz Lauren

Clue is a show seemingly predestined to get a production at Mercury Theatre. The venerable house on Southport, which of late has been staging one excellent show after another (including this summer’s wonderful production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert), always seems to find shows that are almost absurdly entertaining and often a bit off the beaten path. Clue is just such a show, a sassy, silly play without a single serious bone in its body (or Boddy, which is the downright ridiculous name of the first victim in this comic murder mystery farce). Expect a lot of puns, visual humor, sexual humor, and over-the-top characterizations: this play is basically one laugh after another, seemingly written with the motto, “throw everything out there and enough of it will land to make for a grand time.”

The play, of course, is based on the Hasbro board game and adapted from Jonathan Lynn’s screenplay for the 1985 movie. Sandy Rustin, with additional material from Hunter Foster and Eric Price, wrote this version, creating a gloriously goofy template for director L. Walter Stearns to amplify with his multiple Jeff Award-winning sense of theatrical stylization. And Stearns really goes to town on this one, taking full advantage of a very talented cast and a flexible Bob Knuth set. (I’ve never seen a show on this small stage that felt so expansive; it’s easy to believe that this is a gigantic old home with many, many rooms.) This is a very meta show—one character actually comes on carrying the board from the game to help him navigate the mansion where he has found himself—in which actors absolutely obliterate the fourth wall and jokes fly so freely that it doesn’t even matter if some don’t fully land. Inevitably, enough will to keep the audience’s laughter coming.

The plot isn’t really the most important thing here—that would be the crazy antics and interactions of the outrageous characters created for the board game—but basically it is this: a group of people is invited to a “dinner party” at an old mansion where the host, Mr. Boddy, has a few things other than food on his mind. After Boddy—who, it turns out, is not a nice man—becomes, well, a body, the guests strive to figure out what has happened to him (and to the others who fall victim to whatever is going on) as well as to find the evidence their erstwhile host was going to use to blackmail each of them. (I did say he was not a nice guy.)

The guests, known throughout by pseudonyms (Col. Mustard, Mrs. White, Professor Plum, etc.) given to them as they arrive, are each given one of six weapons (the gun and the knife are the most deadly, but sometimes a lead pipe or a candlestick will suffice) and set off to search the vast and ancient manor for clues. Stearns coaxes hilarious characterizations from his cast. Jonah D. Winston (and his impossibly smooth and deep voice) has a lot of fun playing the dimwitted Col. Mustard. McKinley Carter’s straitlaced Mrs. White, Nancy Wagner’s ostentatious Mrs. Peacock (whom costume designer Marquesia Jordan has adorned with actual peacock feathers), Kevin Rosten, Jr’s nervous and clumsy Mr. Green, Andrew Jessop’s womanizing Professor Plum, and Erica Stephan’s wonderfully fun Miss Scarlet, the DC Madame, make up the rest of the colorful invitees. (Jordan takes care to adorn each actor with some item containing their character’s signature color.)

The household members of Boddy Manor are no less outre. Tiffany T. Taylor’s thick-accented and heavily petticoated Yvette, Honey West’s surly Cook, and Mark David Kaplan’s Wadsworth the butler all seem perfectly chosen to complement Patrick Byrnes’ Mr. Boddy, who is the kind of evil character who simply gets off on being evil. Kaplan, in fact, actually gives a tour de force (or maybe tour de farce?) performance as he leads the guests around the mansion. (I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing any of his multitudinous hilarious moments.) Pretty much the only non-farcical character is Andrew McNaughton’s police officer. The evening gets sillier and sillier as the bodies begin to pile up, and Stearns provides richly choreographed comic movements for his actors as these characters uproariously attempt to puzzle out what is going on so that they won’t be added to the body count.

I wouldn’t call Clue a great play, but it is undeniably a funny one, and this is an outstanding production. Besides, everyone needs laughter in difficult times (even if they are not trying to navigate a creepy mansion during a thunderstorm while desperately trying not to be killed), and this excellent cast and talented director provide nonstop comedy that runs the gamut of reactions from smiles to deep guffaws. Only the comedy-challenged will come away without plenty of humorous moments embedded in their minds, and honestly I haven’t a clue why they’d be there in the first place.

Clue is presented by Mercury Theatre and runs through Jan 1 at 3745 N. Southport Ave Chicago. For tickets and information, please visit Mercury Theatre or, call 773-325-1700. For more Chicago reviews or show information, see chicagoonstage.com or theatreinchicago.com.

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