Based on the board game of the same name, the University of Rhode Island’s production of “Clue: On Stage” is a testament to what can be achieved with a talented cast, a skilled technical crew and a wonderfully campy script. The show is filled to the brim with the twists and turns one would expect out of this sort of whodunit. “Clue: On Stage” is a must-see performance this holiday season.
Fans of the classic Parker Brothers board game will be delighted to see all the traditional characters gather for their night of murder and subterfuge. In this McCarthy-era twist on the game characters, such as Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock, are reimagined into disgraced Freudian psychiatrists and two-faced socialites. The entire cast did a phenomenal job embodying their characters and portraying their incriminating idiosyncrasies — mixing the usual suspects from the game with the red scare politics of the 1950s.
While everyone from the main cast excels in their roles, the real stand-out character is the butler Wadsworth, played by actor Liam Roberts. His performance functionally carries the show as he repeatedly steals scenes from his equally compelling castmates. Picking another standout, however, would necessitate that the entire cast be listed in order, as they all hit it out of the park, with Roberts scoring the grand slam.
The technical achievement of this play should not be overlooked. The lighting, sound and set design work in conjunction to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere, offset by the hammy script and comic acting. Dynamic lighting, dramatic sound effects and a moving set all combine to add an imposing scope to the mansion our characters find themselves confined to. More than once the Scooby-Doo-esque antics of the cast come to a screeching halt as the set delivers on some legitimately chilling moments.
The script — which was based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn and written by Sandy Rustin — serves as an homage to the classic mystery hijinks genre, mixed with the paranoia of McCarthy-era America. Amid the campy dialogue and humorous gags lies a chilling reminder of a time in American history where it was dangerous to believe in the "wrong" causes. The script does an excellent job reminding audiences of the danger of suppressing free thought without taking away from the lighthearted nature of the play.
The story manages to keep the audience guessing throughout, with hints and misdirections sprinkled in from start to finish. The final reveal is both satisfying and very much in keeping with the tone of the play without compromising on a logical conclusion.
The only major criticism of the play comes around the halfway point where the characters engage in a split-up and search-for-clues montage that overstays its welcome. While there are a few moments of genuine humor throughout this tedious gag, much of the scene relies on a single joke that gets old quickly. This scene could have easily been trimmed and resulted in a far punchier play overall. Sensitive viewers should also be warned that screams are heard throughout the show, as well as gunshots in a few scenes.
The university’s production of “Clue: On Stage” is a definitive triumph for the theater department and is well worth the price of admission. Viewers still have a chance to see the play live this weekend, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.