BWW Recap: VILLAIN: DEBLANKS Makes a Macaron Murderer with ACLU Benefit
What do you get when you cross Mad Libs with Clue, add a group of theatre vets, and sprinkle in a dash of philanthropy? Why, it must be VILLAIN: DEBLANKS!
The comedy event, held at Feinstein's/54 Below, served as a benefit for the ACLU, with Billy Mitchell, who wrote the skeleton script for the show, serving as the night's emcee.
Mitchell opened the show by giving a spirited introduction to the night's cast: Stephen Wallem (NURSE JACKIE), Dale Soules (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), Brenda Braxton (CHICAGO), Tony Sheldon (AMELIE), Ben Rimalower (PATTI ISSUES), and Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth (CHICAGO). He also gave Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the floor.
"We all know that there's no better time to stand up for the ACLU than now," Lieberman said from the back of the room. "Because, otherwise, we'll never know what 'covfefe' means."
All of the proceeds for the event will benefit the ACLU/NYCLU. For nearly a century, the non-profit organization has sought to defend Constitutionally guaranteed rights for people and communities in the United States.
The actors then roamed the room, asking audience members to fill in the holes in the script with words, Mad Libs-style.
And then the real show---which Mitchell jokingly dubbed "the most dramaturgically tight production [the actors] have ever been a part of"---began to unfold. Since, in this kind of show, the journey is the destination, the plot was pretty simple: Philip DeBlanks (the Mr. Boddy of this scenario, if you will) was smothered to death under 18 pounds of macarons. So whodunnit?
Well, there were six suspects, each with a distinct and, at times, hard to place accent. First, there were Bob Frapples (Wallem), a distant cousin of Philip's and sculptress Lynn O'Liam (Soules).
Then there was the tiara-ed Rhoda Pony (Braxton), the former leading lady of director Orson Buggy (Sheldon), whose best days may also be behind him (unless you count the "SPAM festivals" he judges). Rounding out the group were Philip's chauffeur and confidant, Aaron Matires (Rimalower) and Neuwirth as heiress Fonda Jewels.
As details of Philip's "pastrycide" came to light, so did some wild accusations. Neuwirth drew a big laugh early on, as her German-accented character insisted, "I think one of you lured him to Denny's last week, and that was the end of him!"
The audience got the giggles most when the actors flubbed their lines or lost their place, which, in an unrehearsed show, was not infrequent. When Wallem's Bob, was asked accusatorily how his fortune cookie company was doing, the apparent Wisconsinite lobbed back, "I'll turn the page and I'll fuckin' let ya know."
Everyone had something to hide, from Orson's desperate need to revive his career to Fonda's rocky romance with Philip. First, she was his "vife," then they were engaged, and then, well, "He'd bought ze ring!"
Slowly but surely, each character's motive for wanting Philip dead unraveled---along with many of the actor's accents---to the crowd's obvious pleasure. Playing Rhoda with a Latin accent, Braxton went up on her lines most often, at one point joking, "Ay dios mio! That was painful."
Each audience member had a paper ballot they could use to vote for the character they thought was the cold-cookied killer. In the end, after the votes were tallied, it was Neuwirth's Fonda who was fingered for the macaron murder. Without giving away a few other twists and turns---even in a show that's mostly unspoilable---her quick confession referenced a hidden engagement ring, her dad's credit cards, and, yes, those fateful macarons.
And, with that, all DeBlanks were filled in.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.