Review: THE VICTORIAN LADIES' DETECTIVE COLLECTIVE at Washington Stage Guild

A delightful whodunnit running through February 25th

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Review: THE VICTORIAN LADIES' DETECTIVE COLLECTIVE at Washington Stage Guild

There's murder and mayhem afoot at Washington Stage Guild (and a fair amount of mirth, too) in the area premier of Patricia Milton's The Victorian Ladies' Detective Collective, a fun and lighthearted addition to the whodunnit genre with a decidedly feminist twist.

Review: THE VICTORIAN LADIES' DETECTIVE COLLECTIVE at Washington Stage Guild
Steven Carpenter as PC Crane and Jen Furlong
as Loveday Fortescue. DJ Corey Photography.

It's the Autumn of 1893 in London, and someone is killing young actresses. Sisters Loveday Fortescue  and Valeria Hunter (standout local actors Jen Furlong and Laura Giannarelli, respectfully) are particularly concerned, because their Hunter Lodging House is filled with actresses - and Police Constable Crane (Steven Carpenter, who also plays Jasby and Toddy) and the rest of the London constabulary don't seem to have a clue about the murderer's identity. And despite Loveday's insistence that she can be of assistance, the police aren't too keen to share any information with them.

Left with no other options, Loveday takes matters in her own hands and starts sleuthing. She enlists one of their boarders, American actress Katherine Smalls (played energetically and with great comic timing by Debora Crabbe), and the race is on to see who will crack the case first - the boys, or the girls.

There's a lot to like in this production, starting with Milton's script - a storyline that pays homage to classic murder mysteries with the fresh perspective of presenting the play through a feminist lens. The three female characters are all strong and well drawn, and Milton does a nice job of modulating the suspense and tension, while showing a deft touch for injecting comic relief. It's a challenging task, because the play is basically a parlor piece, and there are moments when it gets wordy. The dialogue dragged at times, but this talented ensemble will almost certainly improve the pacing as the run continues.

Review: THE VICTORIAN LADIES' DETECTIVE COLLECTIVE at Washington Stage Guild
Jen Furlong as Loveday Fortescue and
Laura Giannarelli as Valeria Hunter.
DJ Corey Photography.

Megan Holden's set is a perfect Victorian parlor, from the overstuffed furniture to the ornate wallpaper, with a myriad of openings that afford director Morgan Duncan a plethora of options for keeping the action moving, which is critical in a dialogue driven show like this one. The costumes created by Stephanie Parks add to the visual impact of the show. They are beautifully fitted, and each one matches the character's personality. The visual elements create a wonderful, realistic Victorian feel that permeates the production.

Review: THE VICTORIAN LADIES' DETECTIVE COLLECTIVE at Washington Stage Guild
Debora Crabbe as Katie Smalls.
DJ Corey Photography.

The ensemble is well cast, and the female characters are definitely the focus of the show. Furlong, Giannarelli and Crabbe have each created distinct, memorable personas. They have great chemistry, and each has moments where they give standout performances. Crabbe's running gag about using a folding fan as a weapon is a highlight of the show, as is Carpenter's Cockney meat seller. (Carpenter's accent work is exemplary; the other accents are more suggestive, which is a good choice, given the sheer volume of dialogue in the play.)

Milton's dialogue is generally clever, but the male characters lack the depth of the female characters, and some may find the overarching feminist tone (and implied commentary on, and depiction of, the 19th-century patriarchy) to be a bit ham-handed. Hopefully, Milton will turn this into a franchise, and revisit these sisters in future cases, with a bit more fleshing out of the supporting characters. That said, it's nice to see a fresh take on the murder mystery genre, and the production is delightfully entertaining.

The Victorian Ladies' Detective Collective runs through February 25th. Running time is just over 2 hours, with one intermission. For more information about Washington Stage Guild, click here.




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