Play review: Murder Most Merry

This spring Candlelight Theatre presented another delightful trio of plays. Candlelight Theatre performs twice annually at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site (though their 2017-2018 season will consist of four productions!).

The historical home of our 23rd President is the perfect backdrop for period play productions. Candlelight Theatre productions are either single stories that unfold in different rooms in the house or a collection of thirty-minute plays performed in different rooms.

Murder Most Merry was of the latter type. Audience members were assigned one of three rooms: the back parlor, the dining room, or the attic. After one play ended, audience members moved to the next room—and the next play. As usual, an intermission in the basement took place after two plays had been performed.

I started out in the dining room. The docent attached to us was quite talkative before each of the plays started—and knowledgeable about house. (It turns out that she was a high school teacher in a previous life.) In the dining room, we learned all about the silver, the White House china designed for Harrison, Mrs. Harrison’s Presbyterian roots being the motivation for her indefatigable work, her conservation of the White House, and the renovation of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. Did I mention that the docent was quite talkative?

On occasion, Candlelight Theatre involves the audience in their plays. The first play in the dining room was one of those. Such a Nice Little Kitty was a three-person (and one cat) play. Walter, the husband, is distraught by the noise of their obscenely large cat—which of course, hates him and loves his wife. In the end, one of them doesn’t survive to see daylight. The dialogue was witty, and the audience “involved” as Walter looks for the darn cat underneath the audience’s seats. I enjoyed recognizing actors that I have seen in previous performances. The wife, Sue Beecher, was one of those repeat actors.

Next up was the play in the attic. We wound up the main staircase to the third floor. The bits and pieces of the Presidential Pet exhibit were all around us. To my left was the blown-up picture of Harrison’s adult son Russell with Benjamin Harrison’s grandchildren and Old Whiskers the goat. (I have a soft spot for Old Whiskers.)

The play in the attic—The Case of the Well-Staged Murder—was a radio play set in November 1947 and performed before a live audience. The play was a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. A man is shot in a park on a cold, rainy evening. Who did it? Sherlock Holmes does not disappoint us. (Ellis Hall as Sherlock was another Candlelight Theatre actor that I recognized from past performances.)

The actors file in, preparing for the radio play. As the audience, we see their props for sound effects to imitate walking on gravel, the roll of thunder, gunshots, or doors opening and closing. At different times throughout the play, an ad cut in for a line of men’s clothing—the dapper Dr. Watson modeled the clothing for us. We were asked to applaud with an Applause sign. Again, the audience was a participant in the play—a typical occurrence in Candlelight Theatre productions.

The last play of the evening—An Inspector Answers—was held in the back parlor on the first floor. I had not seen several other regular actors yet so I was pleasantly surprised with this play. Most of the actors were regulars that I recognized—James Trofatter, Donna Wing, Heather Wing, and of course, Ken Eder.

The minute that Ken walked through the door, I gasped in delight. I love Ken Eder. He is a complete ham on rye. An Inspector Answers was a silly play with absurd dialogue and situations that leave you laughing. For example, every time mention was made of the wife going to the country for a visit, everyone turned to look at a painting of a country scene. Or when they pulled guns on each other, they kept shifting in unison who they aimed their guns at.

The husband is accused of murdering his wife. But through twists and turns, and a love triangle (or quadrangle…I lost track), the plot and motives change. The actors clearly had a hoot with this play. And so did the audience.

I highly recommend any production that Candlelight Theatre puts on. Their plays are enjoyable, the acting superb, and the ambiance delightful. The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is the perfect spot for their productions.

While you are at it, stop back for a tour of the house. It is well worth it. And be sure to look for the photo of Old Whiskers in one of the bedrooms—and while the Presidential Pet exhibit is running, in the attic.

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