CLUE – FROM BOARD GAME TO MOVIE TO STAGE – PLAYING THIS MONTH AT ACTS THEATRE

SHORT TAKE:

Mostly family friendly spoof on murder mysteries, based on the board game of the same name and translated from the eponymous movie, Clue, playing at ACTS Theatre for the next three weekends – October 11 – October 27, 2019 – get your tickets HERE.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone. Aside from a little bit of mild profanity and some very light jabs at religion and alternative lifestyles, this is a family friendly show. There’s no sexual activity, no real violence and the murders are part of the buffoonery and played for healthy laughs. Older people will get the jokes and kids will enjoy the slapstick.

LONG TAKE:

In 1945 Anthony Pratt invented a family past time based upon the idea of a murder mystery. He called it Cluedo but we all know it as Clue. In the 1980’s John Landis (director of Trading Places, Oscar and National Lampoon’s Animal House) became possessed with the idea of making Clue into a film. Despite being star studded and wielding a $15 million budget it flopped hard at the box office but has since become a cult sensation boasting of: a novelization, its own fan club, Youtubes coming to its defense, an off-Broadway musical, a campaign to remake it with Ryan Reynolds in the lead, and a live theatrical version.

Landis’ Clue was the first of its kind, a movie made from a board game. It starred some of the most talented comedians of the time: Tim Curry, (who lists this along with Muppet Treasure Island as two of his own favorite movies in which he was cast), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) whose now classic dry description of how much she hated one of the other characters “flames on the side of my face” left fellow cast mates struggling to maintain their professional composure during the scene and was the only ad lib allowed to stay in the tightly disciplined and rehearsed shooting schedule, Martin Mull (FM, Jingle all the Way and guest spots on a zillion TV shows), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, and the classic TV show Taxi), Eileen Brennan (FM, The Sting, and another parody murder comedy Murder by Death), Leslie Ann Warren (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Victor/Victoria), and Michael McKean (Laverne and Shirley).

I mention all this to point out what big shoes the cast and crew for ACTS latest production of the theatrical Clue have to fill, and fill them they do.

The story concerns a group of strangers who gather at the summons of a mysterious stranger, aptly named Mr. Boddy, (no that is not a misspelling) to a spooky and isolated house on a stormy night for an evening of revelations. The guests get more than they bargained for. With characters named and colorfully costumed in keeping with the pieces in the Clue game, in a house laid out like the original Hasbro product, it becomes immediately apparent that there will be far more vaudeville than violence and more mugging than mayhem. Pratfalls and slapstick laughs are the coinage of the evening as fun is poked at the genre which has long been home to the likes of the far more austere Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes.

Stepping up to the plate for the inimitable Mr. Landis to direct is our own Clay Hebert, veteran of decades of productions all over Lake Charles from McNeese to ACTS to Lake Charles Little Theater and even Hollywood, for whom this play has been a two year dream project.

Clever use is made of the stage in which quick changes and even quicker stage hands move props on and off to represent the many rooms of the house and in the board game: hall, library, study, etc.

Wadsworth, the butler and audience liason, is played by Aaron Webster ( just having finished a similarly sinister role in Arsenic and Old Lace for ACTS). Mrs. White is Kelly Rowland (also from Arsenic) who can’t seem to resist roles of sweetly homicidal ladies. Dylan Conley is Colonel Mustard. Miss Scarlet is played by Taylor Novak-Tyler (Steel Magnolias and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).  Robert Goodson (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Spamalot) lends his unique brand of physical comedy to liven up Mr. Green. Stacy Solak (recently in Bye Bye Birdie) is a scene stealing Mrs. Peacock, and does double duty as aide-de-camp to Clay in the offstage role of assistant director. Zac Hammons (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is Professor Plum. Yvette, the maid – not a board game piece but a character from the movie – is played by Kaylen Peters. Similar to the way the Swiss Army Knife of performers who portrayed a multiplicity of characters was used in The 39 Steps, Lauren Manuel and Lewis Paxton fill in variously for: Mr. Boddy, the Cook, the Motorist, the Singing Telegram Girl, and Police Officers.

Lending their respective wifely supports as well as extraordinary talents  to this production in general and Aaron Webster and Clay Hebert in particular are Kris Webster and Markie Hebert who functioned as co-producers.

A brave Catheryn Fredericks helps wrangle this motley crew of comedians together as the stage manager.

MILD SPOILER

Sorry movie fans –      – there is only one ending.

So go join this humorously homicidal troupe as they give it their all to give you a ….. Clue.

TICKETS HERE.

BEYOND HERE BE POSSIBLE SPOILERS SO CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK — OH WAIT THAT’S DIFFERENT BOARD GAME……

THE GIVER – AN ORWELLIAN TALE FOR THE YOUNGER AUDIENCE

SHORT TAKE:

Dystopian, cautionary tale of the quietly, dysfunctional society, which has chosen the security of “Sameness” over independent thought, strong emotions, or variety, and the boy tasked to be the new “Receiver” of all the memory experiences everyone else has rejected.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Appropriate for any and all ages but the sophisticated concepts and deliberately monochromatic presentation may be unengaging for younger audience members.

LONG TAKE:

 

The Giver, is a societal fiction parable based on the children’s novel of the same name by Lois Lowry, which follows the character arc of a boy named Jonas. Jonas, played by Abram Conner, lives in a society which has rejected individuality and Free Will for the unquestioned “security” of Sameness. They believe that to be given a choice is to risk making a mistake and enduring pain.

To that end there are no strong emotions, memories of anything except what needs to be known for their chosen jobs, or even color. Differences are not tolerated and those who fall outside of the exacting parameters of what is acceptable: the old, the lame, the unhappy, even twins for the “confusion” they could bring – are relegated to Elsewhere by an unseen but loudspeaker commanding “Committee”. No one is to ask where “Elsewhere” is, there is no reference to any higher authority than the Committee, and God, as well as His gift of Free Will, by default, has been excluded as well. As a result, morality is what the Committee says it is and all acts commanded by them are accepted. A chilling thought with chilling consequences.

Jonas is surprised, (which surprise is apologized for by the Chief Elder), by being chosen as the next Giver. The Giver’s job is to hold, then pass on to the next Giver, the unwanted knowledge and experiences of the human race. The Giver is an advisor to the unseen but unquestionably obeyed, Committee, providing them with perspective they do not have, when faced with situations for which they are unprepared. For example, his is the voice of reason to not shoot down a plane which has accidentally overshot their air space.

But while there is no violence or discord, there is also no mercy or love. Babies are produced by what one might consider “brood mare” humans and then assigned to a parental unit constructed and assigned by the “Committee”. No natural births or normal intimacies are permitted but routinely squelched with medication. Only Jonas and the Giver feel anything deeply.

This is a brave and difficult to play to produce as emotions, interactions, and even colors are muted to beige and gray. The only meaningful actions take place in Jonas’ mind as the Giver gifts him with memories of things like snow and hills, which have been eliminated with “climate control” and geographical obliteration.

Director Kris Webster had the challenging task of creating a world without hues or music and few sounds outside of the actors subdued voices. Only as Jonas learns of the world “before” does he emote or perceive color.

Abram Conner, as Jonas, carries a large load on his young shoulders as the primary conveyor of emotion and personal complexity, having to act out what neither the other characters nor the audience can see. Scott Holtzman, as the Giver, is the weary voice of one who has been burdened too long with all the joys and woes in the troubled past of the world and functions as the one source of true fatherhood to Jonas. Jordan Gribble plays Jonas’ “assigned” father, Taylor Novak-Tyler his chosen mother and Annie Hachtel as his selected sister. Kane Todd and Ashley Dickerson are Jonas’ school companions, Aaron Webster is the Chief Elder and Margaret Martin is one of the aging members of the community. The troupe has the imposing task of having to rein in every actors’ instinct to emote, in order to portray this Orwellian environ, which has more in common with 1984 than you might expect in a child’s story.

The props are minimalistic as in Our Town with chairs and tables and a sled being brought on and off as the needs be. The mood is very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery with an air of over-supervised gloom hanging over the story. The clothes are gray and unadorned, the furniture is drab and featureless, even the books are (at first) without color.

A play which includes veiled topics of euthanasia, failed tries at utopian societies, and Free Will is strong fare for a story aimed at a youth demographic, but The Giver playing February 8 – 18, 2019 at ACTS Theatre, will lend (see what I did there?) itself to spirited conversation in the debate about the cost of relinquishing one’s Free Will in the name of what appears to be the Ultimate Nanny State.

So, the moral might suggest, when thinking about the possibilities of a world without conflict or pain, without discord or obstacles to overcome ….. be careful what you wish for.