DULUTH – Curtis Phillips’ set for the Duluth Playhouse production of Clue is an impressive collection of engineered stone, wood paneling and painted glass. Your expectation is that each door leads to one of the familiar rooms from the classic board game.
But while there are nine such spaces, there are only seven possible — or should I say visible — exit points on stage.
How the classic “Clue” characters get into the dining room, kitchen, conservatory and co. brings the first big laugh of the evening in an entertaining comedy that saves the biggest laughs for the big end.
Clue, the play, is basically a cross between an Agatha Christie crime thriller and Laugh-In (if you’re a baby boomer), Airplane (if you’re Generation X), or Family Guy (for Millennials through Generation Z), with a high-speed version of Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks”.
The approach director Dennis F. Johnson gives the cast is essentially bipolar. For example, Colonel Mustard mishears or misunderstands any word that has more than two syllables. Michael Kraklio often plays a rowdy character, but this time he does it in such a calm way that it ends up making the jokes even heavier.
But while the rest of the cast follows suit and avoids overdoing the comical dialogue, the physical comedy sees them all jumping hand-in-hand into the deep end of the pool.
There’s an eavesdropping tableau of absurd proportions, and the requisite scene, with everyone going in and out through every available door, was choreographed so bizarrely that the audience ended up applauding.
Sarah Wolter puts a delightfully cheeky twist on pretty much everything Miss Scarlet had to say, Jennie Ross as Mrs. White proves once again that she can elicit big laughs without saying a word, and Cathy Berggren is stunning as Mrs. Peacock an absolute hoot.
It was nice to see Jonathan Manchester back on stage playing Mr Green with a goofy little grin, and to have Jesse Davis in a lead role, the rather skittish Professor Plum.
Kendra Carlson’s French accent as maid Yvette was spot on enough to be hilarious, and Sara Marie Sorenson provided the biggest laugh of the night in a one-shot role. Chris Ibarra and Christian Van Orsdel play both corpses and cops.
When we got to what you would call the “end”, as inappropriate as that word is to describe what was happening on stage, there was a lot of big laughs.
Many of those laughs were served on a silver platter to Andy Frye as Butler Wadsworth. His insistence on stepping over the various bodies on the floor instead of avoiding them got the ball rolling, culminating in the hysterical sequence in which Frye recaps the entire play at breakneck speed to identify the killer, and repeats Got laughs that repeated all the big laugh lines.
“Clue” runs for 80 minutes without a break. It’s scheduled to run 90, which gives you a sense of how quickly this production is ending, leading to some occasional tongue-slipping.
When I watched Clue, all I remembered about the film was that Tim Curry was the butler, Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos appeared, and there were three different endings depending on where you watched it (which was in Albuquerque didn’t matter). because it was only shown on one screen, so I waited to borrow the videotape). Also, it turns out my favorite scene is actually in Neil Simon’s Murder By Death.
So as long as you’ve played the board game, it really doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen (or almost completely forgotten) the movie. What matters is that the Playhouse guests who made “Clue” their favorite in a poll of potential shows for last season knew what they were doing.
when you go
What: Clue by Duluth Playhouse written by Sandy Rustin based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn based on the Parker Brothers board game based on the British board game Cluedo designed by Anthony E. Pratt.
Where: NorShor Theater, 211 E. Superior St.
When: 12-21 August, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m
Tickets: $37-48. Call 218-733-7555 or buy online at DuluthPlayhouse.org.
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts critic for the News Tribune. He wrote this review in the bedroom with the computer.