Candlelight Theatre performed another James Trofatter production, Victorian Villains. The premise was similar, though the content completely different, to last year.
The audience members were potential trainees at a school. Our guide, a descendant of Dr. Watson, guided us through the school where we met various villains to learn their tactics and hear advice. (Planning is key! Don’t get greedy.)
In this production, we were led through different rooms of the house, sometimes standing as the villains talked, other times sitting. The rooms we entered were the typical ones (parlor, library, dining room, sitting room, Harrison’s bedroom, ballroom) plus another one (the bedroom that contains the photo of Old Whiskers).
The audience I was with for the most part seemed new to Candlelight Theatre and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. But they seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and get into interactions with the actors.
The villains that we met were many and varied. Two were women from Indiana: Nancy Clem and Belle Gunness. Nancy Clem was a woman in 19th century Indianapolis charged with murder and prosecuted by Benjamin Harrison. (Candlelight Theatre has done and is scheduled to do again a play devoted to Nancy Clem.)
Others were villains throughout the US and the UK. Some I knew: H.H. Holmes, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Lizzie Andrew Borden, Jack the Ripper, and Hannibal Lecter. Holmes is perhaps the least well-known in the list. He is famous for murders during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. I was first introduced to him on an Irvington ghost tour due to the murders he committed in that Indiana town.)
Some were new to me: the Bloody Benders, Mary Ann Cotton, William Palmer, Amelia Elizabeth Dyer, William Burke, Dr. Robert Knox, Sweeney Todd, and Mrs. Lovett. Those from the British Isles were overrepresented among serial killers in the play.
The Bloody Benders ran a general store and way station for travelers in Kansas, killing dozens of travelers that stopped.
Mary Ann Cotton, a serial killer in the UK, poisoned several husbands and then a stepson with arsenic. William Palmer was an English doctor who poisoned family members and associates with strychnine, and then collected on insurance policies.
Amelia Elizabeth Dyer was another British serial killer, who engaged in baby farming (taking in unwanted infants for money)…and up to 400 deaths of babies in her care.
William Burke (along with a William Hare) committed 16 murders to supply Dr. Robert Knox with corpses for his anatomy lectures in Edinburgh. (Apparently grave robbing or corpse resurrection wasn’t sufficient.)
Sweeney Todd was a barber in London who dispatched his customers/victims via a trapdoor, and then Mrs. Lovett used their bodies in her famously delicious meat pies.
Many of the actors were old hands and were a delight to see in action again: Heather Wing (Dr. Watson), Ken Eder (H.H. Holmes), Donna Wing (Nancy Clem), and Dennis Jones (William Palmer). Alas, James Trofatter was absent from his own play.
Victorian Villains was a well-done production and an enjoyable way to celebrate Halloween. And as advertised, the school taught lessons to its trainees.
Lessons learned: Stay away from people who seem to be a black hole for missing people. Be careful if anyone takes out an insurance policy on you, or learns that you have money. Always sit with your back against a wall and never on top of a trap door. (You never know when someone will try to bash in your skull with a hammer from behind a curtain.) And watch out for poison.