The Twelve Murders of Christmas
Written by A.S.Waterman
Directed by John Campbell Finnegan
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Mixing murder and Christmas would seem to be as incongruous as pickles and ice cream, yet WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre makes an annual habit of it. Actually, the most enduring holiday stories always have dark undercurrents. Think of Scrooge’s peek into Christmas Yet To Come or George Bailey’s contemplation of suicide on that bridge in Bedford Falls.
As in A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, A.S. Waterman’s script also uses ethereal spirits to forward the action, so that the murder victim remains a part of the story even while their corpse grows cold. But despite such touches of darkness and the supernatural The Twelve Murders of Christmas is light and easy to digest.
The plot brings six unrelated individuals to a house, each of whom are asked to adopt a yuletide moniker for the occasion: Felice Navidad (Cindy Smith), Silas Knight (Ryan Beyer), Harold Angel (John Trueblood), Wayne Manger (Marc McHone), Dusty Fidelis (Cristina Martin), and Beth Littletown (Katerine Summerfield). The Butler (John Campbell Finnigan) is the only one who seems to have a clue what is really going on. It becomes clear that each has death in their past, which clouds our suspicion as to who might be the killer once a murder has been commited.
As executed on Zoom, the setting is nicely realized by virtual backgrounds of a grand, sumptuous room richly decorated for Christmas seen from different angles. It is a simple but effective technique augmented by colorful costume choices that are unfortunately limited by the head and shoulders framing for each character. It’s a shame, for example, not to see more of Katherine Summerfield’s dark red gown, although she sports the perfect bejewelled horn rimmed glasses, or John Youngblood’s curious ensemble that evokes Rip Taylor (google it).
The usual WhoDunnit structure remains, which means that sans breaks for dinner courses, the running time is that of an episodic one act. The audience is still invited to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in the last scene, but the opportunity to question the suspects feels awkward without the in person table walks that are another staple for this company.
Yet the cast compensates by overplaying just enough to push the limitations of the format, even managing some overlapping dialogue. As a director, cast member Finnigan establishes a pace designed to overcome the delay inherent in the technology, which is smart and effective. If I were to pick one nit, it would be to move a few of the cast back from their camera. Tight close ups restrict their body movements too much and any time an actor can introduce a little more movement into these wretched frames, it helps liven up the proceedings.
But this is all new territory, and this production has good work behind it. The result is a brisk and funny holiday distraction, escapist post dinner entertainment for a cold winter night. With so many nights at home ahead of us, The Twelve Murders of Christmas easily earns its place among the choices from local theatre groups that can ward off cabin fever.
The Twelve Murders of Christmas
December 3 -19 Online
Admission begins at 6:45 pm/Show begins at 7:00 pm
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre
Call Heather Hensley at (517) 304-3081 for tickets and more information
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio 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.