Friday, May 10, 2019

The Butler Did It – Wait! What Butler?

Sean Riley, Devin VanDomelin, Erin Bickler, Brandon Weaver, Brain Young, Steve Koeppen. Photo by Katherine Roundy

By Tina Arth

While I have high hopes for every show I see, I try to keep my expectations realistic, given the many constraints faced by community theatre groups. Thus it’s always a treat when I am surprised by the flat-out excellence of an overall production or its individual elements. One look at Mask & Mirror’s set for Tim Kelly’s The Butler Did It suggested that I was in for something special – and I was not disappointed. Director Meghan Daaboul has assembled a crack production crew and fine actors, and the result is a farcical whodunit that successfully parodies myriad conventions of the mystery genre, managing to be utterly silly without being utterly stupid.

The story is, of course, absurd. A group of famous mystery authors have arrived at Ravenswood Manor, an isolated estate on Turkey Island off the coast of San Francisco. They have been invited by Miss Maple (based on Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple”) for a weekend of play mysteries, and each author is playing the role of one of his or her iconic detectives. Miss Maple shares her home with the newly hired personal assistant Rita and Haversham the maid – ironically, there is no butler. All but one author arrives in the middle of a massive storm that cuts the island off from the mainland, lending an appropriate aura of menace to the visit. The authors are faced with a real mystery when one of them, Rick Carlyle (based on Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles) is found dead in the living room of the elegant estate. With the body safely stashed in the basement until the police can be called, Miss Maple offers an immense reward anyone who can identify the murderer, and the authors reveal themselves to be remarkably inept when trying to solve an actual crime. In particular, Louis Fan (based on Charlie Chan) displays a mind-numbing level of incompetence as he spins a series of implausible theories. False identities, hidden doors, an adventurous arrival by helicopter, and falling figurines all drive the story to its bizarre conclusion.

All ten of the core cast members do a fine job of selling the individual quirks of their characters. A few standouts include Donna Haub, who is especially fun as Miss Maple – completely self-absorbed, and so focused on her mystery weekend that she is utterly out of touch with the real events going on under her roof. Erin Bickler’s broad comedic style is perfect for the adventurous, flamboyant, and seductive Charity Haze, and she milks the role for all it is worth. Sean Riley’s “Louie Fan” at first seems like a wildly offensive Asian stereotype, until it becomes clear that he is playing a clueless white guy pretending to be “Oriental” without even a trace of cultural awareness.  I particularly enjoyed Brian Young’s hard-boiled take on Chandler Marlowe – he did a flawless job of maintaining his accent and attitude throughout. A final shout out must go to Jennifer Waverly as Haversham the maid.  Waverly is a master of the Dumb Dora school of wide-eyed naïveté, her timing is superb, and despite her criminal past we truly believe that she’s a straight shooter, but definitely not a murderer.

Detailed costume, lighting, and sound design all provide solid support for the production, but the real centerpiece hit me right between the eyesas soon as the lights came up . William Crawford’s amazing set, dressed to the nines by Cindy Zimmerman, is simply gorgeous – as lush and detailed as anything I’ve seen on a local stage in years.  If I’m ever rich enough to buy an estate on an island, I’m bringing in this team to do my décor (and Rita the maid to keep it clean). It’s clear that Meghan Daaboul took every element os her show seriously – nothing falls between the cracks, which is what allows the comedy to shine through.

Mask & Mirror’s The Butler Did It runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm through May 19th at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224.

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