Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center

A New Comedy

By: Apr. 04, 2024
Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center
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Back in the day (before computers and tabloid screens), families and/or groups of friends would gather around the kitchen table to play what were then called “board games.” 

Monopoly taught how to succeed in real estate.  Scrabble taught word spelling skills and asked players strategically add high scoring words from letters secretly displayed on a rack in front of players. I’m not sure what Parchesi taught you, but it was fun. 

One board game offered the opportunity to sharpen players crime solving skills (a la Agatha Christie).   The original game was conceived and patented in the UK while the Nazi Blitz pounded nightly overhead.  The game was published by a company called Paddington after the conclusion of the war.  It surfaced in 1949 on the west side of the pond under the Parker Brothers label.  The game was called “Clue.”

Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center

Three quarters of a century following its first North American game release, a top-quality touring play version of “Clue, A New Comedy” has appeared set in a mansion located in suburban Washington, D.C.   At the risk of sounding like a bad horror novel or even worse “B” movie, all the action takes place in a spooky mansion on a dark and stormy night. This is not the first attempt to leverage the popular game into other venues.

Like in the old sitcom featuring a famous redhead and her husband, perhaps a little “splaining” is in order.

There is a rumble of thunder, a flash of lightning, and a knock at the ornate front door.  The first people we see are a French maid named Yvette (Elisabeth Yancy) and a estate cook (Mariah Burks). The door is answered by a man purporting to be the butler named Wadsworth (Mark Price).

Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center

Six invited dinner guests, all unknown to each other, are introduced to the audience. They are Col. Mustard (John Tracy Egan) who is a self-proclaimed war hero with remaining connections to government. Mrs. White (Tari Kelly) is an elderly woman perhaps the survivor of a famous Senator. Mr. Green (John Hartzer) may be a gay government contractor assuming that he has identified himself correctly, Mrs. Peacock (Joanna Glushak) is something of a black widow.  Professor Plum (Jonathon Spivey) is a certifiable genius who has lost his family fortune to his host, Mr. Boddy. Miss Scarlet (Michelle Elaine) is proudly the proprietor of Washington’s classiest bordello.

There has been a murder in a mansion. The dinner guests transform into suspects. The victim is the announced host, Mr. Boddy.  Ordinary objects ( a rope, a lead pipe, a pistol, a wrench, a dagger, a bottle of poison, or a candlestick)  became murder weapons.  The six rooms in the mansion became murder venues.

The point of the board game was to figure out who done it, where, and with what. There were three decks of cards. One deck described the murderer, one the weapon, and the third the room in which the dastardly deed happened.  One card from each deck randomly ended up in an envelope.  The remainder were distributed to the players. As each player threw the die and advanced along the game board house, deductive reasoning was supposed to resolve the mystery.  

Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center

Since 1949, there have been a number of iterations of “Clue.” In addition to the board game, there have been at least two video games, a motion picture, a musical comedy, and now a non-musical farce.

It turns out that Mr. Boddy was not Mr. Boddy at all.  Instead, he was a swindler who in some way attempted to blackmail each of his dinner guests or at least hang a murder charge on them.

This version of the game is based more or less on the 1985 motion picture with an all star cast.  In that attempt, the cast filmed the last ten minutes or so several different times. The idea was that each time you attended the film, there would be a different ending.

A 1995 musical comedy attempt in Baltimore was set up so that the audience needed to participate in the show.   There were over two hundred possible combinations.  An off-Broadway version enjoyed (perhaps a bad choice of words) a short run.

Hmmmm, sounds like the old board game is ripe for a murder-mystery farce. Someone thought that this version of the game being afoot was the solution to a sure fire hit that just missed the bullseye previously by a little bit.

Review: CLUE at Kauffman Center

The set for Clue is as ornate and professional as could be imagined.  Special music and effects have been imagined. Excellent costumes and props were procured. Tremendous care was put into the choreography.  It is farcical in the same way a Keystone Cops chase or the Marx Brothers may have been back in the early days of film.  The dialog can be very good or some jokes can fall very flat.

Farce depends on understandable setups, punch lines, and a pause so that the audience can catch up. These are pretty good actors, but the characters they have been asked to portray are kind of wooden and burlesque. There is a tendency for some (especially those with accents) to rush setup lines to the point of being unhearable.

We end the show with a bunch of bodies or boddies all killed with different weapons in different rooms. The bad guy has been arrested, but to remind us of the game, we’ve had a very complicated review, a death scene to kill off all death scenes, and five or six examples  of how the whole show could have ended differently.

I was kind of reminded of the Maxwell Smart character in “Get Smart.”  Agent Smart would only miss his mission by just a insy bitsy tinsy little bit.

“Clue A New Comedy” opened earlier this year in Minneapolis to some technical difficulties.  It has not yet run in New York. From the level of professionalism shown and the money spent, that is evidently the goal.   This cast has a long road to go.  If they can catch each other actors rythyms, they might have a hit on their hands or they might have an insy, tinsy, bitsy, miss.

See the show and make up your own mind.  “Clue” continues at the Kaufmann Center through Sunday April 7.  Tickets are available at through the American Theatre Guild at 816-994-7222.

Photos by Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made.


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