Murder on 34th Street
By A.S. Waterman
Directed by Niles Welch
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Beth Olliges, Rachel Booker, Darren Harbour, Bryant Combs, Terrilyn Fleming, Tom Staudenheimer, & Tracy Marx in Murder on 34th Street. Photo courtesy WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater.
Death is a foreign concept at the North Pole, and murder? – Perish the thought.
A.S Waterman has, though, and Murder on 34th Street is the result. A holiday story with a murder that still remains light and cheery, but with a dark edge, might be a tricky recipe to pull off, but the playwright displays discretion about the violent deed and injects enough fantasy into her scenario and innocence in her characters to not offend.
Santa’s team is preparing for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which, although ostensibly organized by Mr. Macy, is really put together by Merrie Christmas (Terrilyn Fleming), Santa’s dutiful wife. Two other members of the staff, Noel Frost (Darren Harbour) and Eve Holiday (Beth Olliges), are competing for the position of Head of IT Services, while Nicholas Green (Bryant Combs) and Holly Snow (Rachel Booker) are young, naive, and in love. It isn’t very long before Holly has discovered the apparently murdered Mr. Macy and the mystery is underway. Of course, we might safely assume that Santa himself (Tom Staudenheimer) is not a suspect, particularly since he conjures up Dr. Angus MacCrimmon (Tracy Marx) to determine who committed the dastardly deed.
Perhaps it was the inherent good cheer of the Christmas setting, but the initial table-walk, always an awkward thing for me personally, was more easily engaging than usual. The table-walks are opportunities for the actors to interact with the audience in character, and it can be difficult to know what to say or ask in that initial encounter, coming as it does before the plot unfolds. But the players this night made it fun, perhaps all the more surprising because three of them were entirely new to me.
The WhoDunnit veterans, Mr. Staudenheimer, Ms. Olliges, and Mr. Harbour, were steadfast and true, with Harbour having a good deal of fun with dialects and deliberate vocal rhythms that proved a worthwhile red herring, but the new faces were fresh and made an impact. Tracy Marx was a befuddled MacCrimmon, with a fair Scottish accent and a solid set of muttonchops to seal the deal. He was not a part of that initial stroll around the tables, but the three that made such a good first impression were the dashing and guileless Mr. Combs, the charmingly neurotic Ms. Booker, and the solidly professional Ms. Fleming. In truth, Ms. Booker was overdoing her mannerisms in some of the scripted scenes, and did much better in the audience interactions, where she seemed more natural and relaxed with the character.
Waterman amuses with the North Pole staff’s decided detachment from reality, where they cannot accept murder in a world without “real” people. As is typical in her better work, she establishes a subtext more provocative than the surface of the material would suggest. WhoDunnit is usually funny, sometimes unnerving, often challenging, but also usually up to more than meets the eye.
Although I don’t usually comment much on the bill of fare, the Bristol rarely disappoints, and on this occasion provided one of the better red velvet cakes I have experienced for the dessert.
As is customary for WhoDunnit, the show is double cast, so some of the actors mentioned might not be in the show the evening you attend.
Murder on 34th Street
November 19, 2016 – January 7, 2017
Seating at 6:30 / Show starts at 7:00
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater
At The Downtown Bristol
614 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, 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.