Beth Olliges, Erica Goldsmith, Maggie Gardner, Tom Staudenheimer, Darren Harbour, John Lina and Ben Rogers in The Case of the Smokin’ Gunn. Photo courtesy of WhoDunnit.
The Case of the Smokin’ Gunn
By A.S. Waterman
Directed by A.S. Waterman and Niles Welch
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre has been around long enough to have a repertory of original material suitable for revival. The Case of the Smokin’ Gunn was originally produced twice in the company’s first incarnation in Rhode Island, and this remount is the second one in Louisville.
It’s a rootin’-tootin’, farcical Western spoof livened up in this rendition by some unorthodox casting that, while not exactly groundbreaking, is still refreshing. In 1876 Arizona, the citizens of Shut-Eye await the arrival of “Guvneh” Grafton Drygulch (Tom Staudenheimer). But when he stumbles from his coach with a knife in his belly and collapses — dead — at their feet, a mystery is at hand amidst the cowboy cornpone.
There to solve it is Sheriff Gunn (Maggie Gardner) and her deputy, Horse Bluster (Ben Rogers). Suspects include his wife, Satira (Erica Goldsmith), former lover Dottie Bloomers (Beth Olliges), gambling buddy Tombstone Ted (John Lina), and his Boston-bred biographer, Norm DePlume (Darren Harbour). Interrogations of each suspect turn into set pieces dominated by flashbacks that reveal that the “Guvneh” was quite the low-down, drunken snake. Of course, this sets up quite the motivation for all the suspects, and a true challenge for Sheriff Gunn.
Figuring among the show’s musical numbers is the WhoDunnit theme, which recurs throughout the company’s repertoire in arrangements that vary by play. The theme is sung in this show, with inconsistency in the vocal strength of the ensemble making for a low-energy musical performance. Beth Olliges has the voice to carry off Dottie Bloomers’ number in better form. Choreography for the musical segments is modest.
Overall, the cast seems to be having fun and acquits themselves admirably. Ben Rogers’ squeaky-voiced homage to old movie Western sidekicks like George “Gabby” Hayes and Pat Buttram was especially notable, and Maggie Gardner was a winsome but still stalwart female sheriff. Tom Staudenheimer was a big hambone as the “Guvneh,” relishing the opportunity to chew up the scenery and proving to be a huge crowd pleaser. Going this far over the top is risky, but the broad tone of the piece allows Staudenheimer to get away with murder. But no spoilers! Remember, his character is the victim … though the pun is absolutely intended.
Darren Harbour was nicely snooty and upper-crust as Boston Brahmin Norm DePlume; looking down his nose with a bowler perched atop his head, he was an effective contrast to the Western clichés surrounding him. A laid-back John Lina and a sharp-tongued Erica Goldsmith, old pros at the WhoDunnit game, filled out the ensemble with style.
It was all a lot of fun, but some small touches provided special interest. A female sheriff with her hair tucked under her Stetson paired with a male deputy with long, flowing mane may not be intended as a commentary on gender, but it almost cannot help but be read as such today. More importantly, Mr. Harbour is legally blind yet is cast without special acknowledgement as a sighted character — complete with monocle! He moves through the blocking mostly without assistance, including the “table walks” during which the actors visit and converse in character with each table of guests in the room. I daresay there were many in the audience who never caught on to the fact that the actor is visually impaired. Conversely, Mr. Lina, who, as far as I know is fully sighted, sported an eye patch suggesting a damaged or missing eye — though the patch appeared to move from one eye to the other between scenes for comic effect. These two dichotomies may be relatively minor details, but they remind us once again about the relationship between art and inclusiveness.
The Case of the Smokin’ Gunn
Saturday evenings thru June 25, 2016
Seating at 6:30 / Show starts at 7:00
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre
at the Bristol Bar & Grille Downtown
614 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the day, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.