Mercury Theater serves up killer comedy with “Clue”


Liz Lauren

(From left to right) Kelvin Roston, McKinley Carter, Erica Stephan, Andrew Jessop, Jonah Winston and Nancy Wagner star in “Clue” at the Mercury Theater.

When it comes to cult classic comedies, few can boast the devoted fanbase –and the never ending quotability – of “Clue”, Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film based on the board game. 

Though it may have bombed at the box office, the screwball comedy/murder-mystery has found a life of its own on the stage. The latest production takes a stab – pun very much intended – at interpreting “Clue” for the stage is Southport’s Mercury Theatre, who will play host to the deadly dinner party now through January 1. From clever staging to sharp direction to a pitch-perfect ensemble cast, Mercury Theatre’s “Clue” is an uproariously funny mystery-comedy that more than does justice to a beloved classic.

Starring Mark David Kaplan as Wadsworth,a role originated by Tim Curry, Clue follows a group of six bumbling strangers, all of whom are being unknowingly blackmailed by the same dastardly mastermind, Mr. Boddy. Locked in a sprawling mansion and each armed with a deadly weapon, tensions quickly mount as the hapless guests – Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum and Mrs. Peacock – struggle to unmask the killer amongst them, or at the very least, make it out of the manor alive.

With an original ensemble cast that featured the likes of Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean and Christopher Lloyd, any staging of “Clue” faces the immediate uphill battle of attempting to replicate, pay homage to or somehow improve upon the original performances that made the original film such a classic. Though it would certainly be a fool’s errand to attempt a direct recreation of line-reads like Mrs. White’s ‘flames!’ or Wadsworth’s finale monologue, both the cast and the audience move through the story ever-aware of the influence of the original. Such quotable source material provides the Mercury Theatre the difficult task of reimagining Clue in their own unique flare. 

It is happily, then, that I can report the ensemble cast put together by Christopher Chase Carter is more than up to the task. Working in beautiful comedic harmony, each of the seven leads, and the scene-stealing french maid Yvette, fundamentally understands the conceit behind their characters. Through this confidence and understanding, it’s a joy to watch each player finding time to shine in their own right while also contributing to the controlled chaos of the large ensemble scenes. 

Leading the charge is, of course, the not-so-humble butler Wadsworth, played to perfection by Kaplan, who gives a performance so full of firecracker physical comedy he can sometimes be dizzying to watch. The simultaneous restraint and vivacity with which Kaplan brings Wadsworth to life is the anchor of the entire show, developing perfectly as the narrative unfolds and his sanity begins to slowly slip away. Though his performance is so consistently terrific, it is hard to pick a standout moment. The aforementioned finale monologue, complete with racing around the stage in faux-reverse, is so staggeringly energetic it is impossible to forget. One wonders who Kaplan will manage to replicate such a performance five nights a week for the next two and a half months. 

The rest of the ensemble is equally stellar. Though some may take ever so slightly longer than others to find their footing, once the play ticks past the 20-minute mark, everyone is clearly more than willing to play ball with each other. Such eager comedic collaboration results in a number of memorable moments missing entirely from the film. One particularly striking sequence features the paired-off dinner guests performing pseudo-dance numbers as they patrol the house for clues. 

It is a bold directorial choice and a testament to the willingness of director Walter Stearns to forge a comedic identity beyond the original film. Similarly memorable in contrast to the 1985 flick is Tiffany T. Taylor as Yvette – the ditsy french maid who serves as little more than eye candy in the film. Though Yvette certainly maintains her sex appeal, Taylor brings a knowing wit and tongue-in-cheek flare to the character which makes her feel like a fully-fledged member of the dinner party, not just a one-off joke.

In addition to constantly looking for ways to build upon the comedy of the original film, Mercury Theatre’s “Clue” makes clever use of staging and set design to craft a Boddy Manor that clearly resembles the film while staying singularly suited to this particular production. The physical theater itself is home to a modest stage that initially prompts questions of how Stearns will manage the labyrinthian complexity of the film’s set. It becomes immediately clear, though, that thanks to Bob Knuth’s ingenuity, the Mercury is more than capable of playing home to a mansion with never ending corridors and secret passages. Just how Knuth’s set functions is a revelation in and of itself that I’ll not spoil here, but rest assured – when it comes to the physical constraints of the stage, “Clue” has nothing to worry about.

Virtually every aspect of Mercury Theatre’s brilliant production of “Clue” feels simultaneously reverent of the original film while developing  a fresh comedic identity. The result is a riotous evening at the theater that will leave even the most discerning and die-hard of Clue fans more than satisfied.