Victoria Edgar, Ann S. Waterman, John Lina, Joy Callwood, John Thwing, John Heffley, & Jason Bearden in The Haunting at Blackwood Hall. Photo: WhoDunnit
The Haunting at Blackwood Hall
Written by A.S.Waterman
Directed by Niles Welch
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
It’s October. Halloween is just around the corner. That means it is time to get spooky. WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater can always be counted on to deliver something appropriate to the season, and a revival of the company’s The Haunting at Blackwood Hall fits the bill.
The story ties into playwright A.S. Waterman’s MacCrimmon narrative, a series of plays and stories charting the aftermath of a shipwreck that strands Dr. Angus MacCrimmon and his wife, Elizabeth, on different parts of the Eastern seaboard of the United States, separated and not knowing if the other is still alive. The idea suggests the kind of pure epic romantic melodrama that we associate with Victorian-era scribes but spread out over a canon of work. Any one of the plays hints at the larger story but you must have experience with several to pick up the connections.
Don’t be intimidated, however, as enjoying The Haunting at Blackwood Hall does not require such depth of understanding of Waterman’s larger intentions. It neatly meets the demands of the moment: a murder, some eccentric suspects, and perhaps a ghost. The answer to that question is always best left for the audience to decide.
The setting is Savannah, Georgia 1899, and Elizabeth MacCrimmon is uncertain of how she has come to a mysterious estate called Blackwood Hall. She is almost immediately hired as a replacement for a young woman named Sarah who had disappeared three months earlier and, it is soon discovered after a grisly find, is dead.
The suspects include Mrs. Kathcart (Ann S. Waterman), the elderly and veiled owner of Blackwood Hall; her physician, Dr. Thorn (John Lina); the handyman (John Heffley) and a mentally impaired young man (Jason Bearden) who works for her; and Imani (Joy Callwood), a Jamaican woman and who communicates with the spirits of the departed. The presence of Elizabeth MacCrimmon and her relationship to other Waterman tales even allows the local law officer, Sheriff Willis Glenn (John Thwing), to come under suspicion, because surely she is our hero.
There were few dialects that sounded like southeast Georgia, with the Scottish MacCrimmon and the Jamaican Imani, both well managed. Only Sheriff Willis sounds authentically Savannah. But overall the ensemble does good work, with Victoria Edgar and Joy Callwood being standouts.
The costumes and set pieces were also good, but WhoDunnit is dependent on the lighting in a banquet room, and a key light being out meant that many actors’ faces were in shadow most of the time (at least from my seat). It was a shame because some of the playing was subtle enough to suffer from being able to better read their faces.
The WhoDunnit structure demands audience participation as actors in character converse with the crowd between scenes. I often feel it is the real barometer of these performances, and this cast handled them with spirit but discipline.
Not to overburden something so intended to be light entertainment, but this text also shifts the power and focus to women, giving it a clear feminist subtext. I suppose the act of murder represents power of a kind, but a murder mystery almost always demonstrates violence as an illusory act of power, as the intention is always to reveal the killer and bring them to justice.
WhoDunnit often double-casts their shows. The cast I saw was Jason Bearden, Joy Callwood, Victoria Edgar, John Heffley, John Lina, John Thwing, & Ann S. Waterman. At other performances, you might encounter Rita Hight, Ciera Imani, Randall Palmer, Dan Remaks, Kitty Timbers, & Niles Welch.
The Haunting at Blackwood Hall
Saturday Evenings, Oct. 7 thru Nov. 4, 2023
Admission begins at 6:30 pm/Show begins at 7:00 pm
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater
Bristol Bar & Grill Downtown
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 Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.