BWW Reviews: Black Box Brings THE BUTLER DID IT! Home to Colorado Springs
The history of "the butler did it" as a mystery plot device is filled with old-fashioned classism. To proponents of the trope, it was a great twist; who would suspect the servant, a person who ideally is supposed to be invisible? Others, such as S.S. Van Dine, considered it too easy a solution-because of course the lower tiers of the social order would be the logical place for such a culprit. In any case, the notion was already a hoary old cliché by the 1930s, when Todd Wallinger's The Butler Did It! is set-so much so that it's practically the first thing brought up between butler Jenkins and maid Sarah when discussing the popular mystery writer about to descend upon their household.
Jenkins (played in the Black Box Theatre's production by David Olson) considers the idea to be nonsense, as butlers are "the steadiest, most dependable chaps you will ever hope to meet." But he soon finds himself on the wrong end of popular opinion when the neighborhood reprobate turns up dead in the kitchen, and everyone from the master and mistress of the house to the local vicar is quick to cast Jenkins as the villain. Granted, circumstantial evidence does make Jenkins look rather suspicious, but the more he investigates (as best he can while tied to a chair) the more the others reveal their own secrets and motivations, demonstrating another reason for casting blame upon the butler: convenience. What better way for the upper class to smooth over their dirty laundry than by airing that of the lower class?
Local playwright Wallinger has written a gently affectionate spoof of a drawing-room mystery, complete with a thinly veiled Agatha Christie clone and threaded with a black humor reminiscent of Arsenic and Old Lace. (One of the household members, a rifle-wielding granny convinced she's fighting the Boer War, is essentially a female variation on Arsenic's Uncle Teddy.) With shaky British accents and uneven comedic timing, the production at the Black Box is carried off with more enthusiasm than skill, but both the audience and myself found the show entertaining and humorous, and some performances do stand out. Olson brings deadpan wit and dignity to the character of Jenkins, the sensible Jeeves amid a household of Woosters. Megan Rieger is quite winning as Kat, the spinster daughter and aspiring aviatrix who represents the least foolish of the toffs. And Daniel Robbins gives a goofy, Rowan Atkinson-like charm to the garrulous, mystery novel-obsessed vicar Father Timothy. Unfortunately, Andrew Davis fails to capitalize on his brief role as the victim, never quite becoming the kind of sleazy cad everybody has a reason to do away with.
While not perfect, The Butler Did It! has a lot of heart and humor behind it and is a fine offering from a Colorado author, and that is enough to recommend it.
THE BUTLER DID IT! plays now through June 14th at the Black Box Theatre at 1367 Pecan Street in Colorado Springs, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7pm and Saturday matinees at 2pm. For tickets, call 719-330-1798 or visit www.blackboxdrama.com.