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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Theatre Review by Keith Waits: Halloween in Haiti: The Hanged Man Sings





Hercule Poirot traveling across the continent on the Orient Express; Charlie Chan crossing an ocean on a luxury liner headed for an exotic port. They represent the classic era of murder mysteries. It is a realm that WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre sometimes inhabits, most recently in their new production, Halloween in Haiti: The Hanged Man Sings.

Some of their productions occupy a contemporary setting, but Graham V. Bell, in his second script for WhoDunnit, once again pays homage to the famous mysteries of the 1930’s by setting his story in Haiti in 1937. A wealthy plantation owner is found hanged, but his old school chum, Dr. Lindsay (played by Bell himself) , suspects foul play. The suspects include the deceased man’s fiancĂ©,  Madame Perruque (Ann S. Waterman), his young nephew, Marmaduke Farqueson (John Collins), chauffeur Henri Samedi (A.J. Green) and his sister, Francoise (Karen Wilson). Oh yeah, and there is a butler called Mort Jesuis (Jeff McQueen) who appears to be some form of zombie, giving added layers of meaning to the clichĂ© of whether “The Butler Did It”. 

WhoDunnit's Halloween shows can be over-the-top offerings with an emphasis on campy humor, but here the action, directed by Niles Welch, is slightly more restrained, although voodoo culture is very present and there is that zombie butler.  Mr. Bell’s script is a sturdy and well-constructed affair that respects tradition and plays out in a forthright manner. His Dr. Lindsay assumes the detective role with little preamble or justification, begging the question of why the others so easily acquiesce to his unauthorized and uninvited investigation, especially since one of them is the killer.

But the well-researched text, which includes a brief but detailed description of voodoo mind-control and references, “Baron Samedi”, a “master of the dead” in Haitian Voodoo, does a good job establishing setting and context through the dialogue and characterizations.

The cast does solid work, but two actors making their debut with this company shine especially bright. John Collins seems to enjoy himself playing the bitter and dissatisfied Marmaduke (probably bitter about that name!) and doesn’t overplay his drunkenness, avoiding one of the easiest pitfalls for an actor, while Karen Wilson brings a wicked, mischievous gleam to her voodoo priestess that seems slightly more suggestive than the script might support.

It all comes at you as three brief scenes interspersed with a 3-course meal (I had the Port-au-Prince chicken with roasted potatoes and broccoli – delicious!) and a cash bar, with the actors interacting with patrons “in character” between the work on stage, making for an easy-going but engaging evening out.
The production continues through October 29 (No show October 8) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 320 West Jefferson Street, downtown. Dinner shows begin seating at 6:30 p.m. with the show at 7 p.m. A special brunch performance begins Sunday, October 9 with seating at 12:30 p.m. and the show at 1 p.m. For tickets call (502) 426.7100 or go to www.whodunnitky.com.

Entire contents are copyright © 2011 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

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