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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

WhoDunnit Season Opens with Multiple Mysteries

The cast of The Haunting of Blackwood Hall.
Photo – WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre.


The Haunting at Blackwood Hall
Script and Musical Score by A.S. Waterman
Directed by Craig Nolan Highley

Reviewed by Keith Waits.

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

The best WhoDunnit scripts offer story and subtext that operate on more than one level, subverting the shallow entertainment expectations of the dinner theatre format. In her latest script, A.S. Waterman offers a murder mystery/ghost story that ambitiously connects to previous stories while also offering tantalizing foreshadowing of future tales.
It is an intriguing offshoot of the Dr. Angus MacCrimmon mysteries in which his wife, Elizabeth, is featured as a main character. In her husband’s series, she is lost and thought dead after a shipwreck off the coast of Rhode Island. But here we find her in Savannah, Georgia, uncertain of how she has come to a mysterious estate called Blackwood Hall. She is almost immediately hired as a replacement for a young woman named Sarah who had disappeared three months earlier and, it is soon discovered after a grisly find, is dead.
The suspects include Mrs. Kathcart (Ann S. Waterman), the elderly and veiled owner of Blackwood Hall; her physician, Dr. Thorn (Niles Welch); the handyman (Tom Staudenheimer) and a mentally impaired young man (Jeremy Guiterrez) who work for her; and Imani (Rebekah L. Dow), a woman who seems to originate from the Caribbean and who communicates with the spirits of the departed. The presence of Elizabeth MacCrimmon as the main character even allows the local law officer, Sheriff Willis Glenn (Jeff McQueen), to be suspect.
Now relocated to the Ramada Plaza on Bluegrass Parkway, WhoDunnit production values, taking place as they must in a hotel banquet room, have always had to make economy a virtue. Yet a gothic atmosphere is effectively established that owes as much to the performances as to the simple lighting effects. The first act takes its time building character and background, allowing the mystery to build with resonance. The fact that it doesn’t seem to rush straightaway into an act of murder indicates that the author has much more on her mind than solving one homicide.
For a play set in the Deep South, there are a wide range of accents present, all convincingly employed and all with good purpose. Under Craig Nolan Highley’s direction, this was one of the most consistently excellent ensembles on a WhoDunnit stage. Jane Mattingly does well by Elizabeth, capturing both the intelligence and sure instincts of the character. Rebekah L. Dow lends weight and authority to the spooky Imani; and Jeremy Guiterrez’s work is a careful, compassionate study of a character that might easily slip into offensive cliché. Tom Staudenheimer puts just enough hambone into his handy man character and was a real hit during the table walks, in which the actors interact, in character, with the audience between scenes. Niles Welch and Jeff McQueen were solid and thoughtful; while Ann S. Waterman’s turn under an opaque black veil, a challenge for any actor, was an exercise in effective vocal authority.
In the end, the script finishes with almost more questions than it started with – with narration from Elizabeth MacCrimmon that reveals other, deeper mysteries to solve than Sarah’s murder – and reminds us that this, among other things, is a ghost story. A.S. Waterman has been developing the MacCrimmon saga for many years now, and she seems poised to raise it to new levels, with the original Angus MacCrimmon stories now available in prose form as eBooks and connections being made to another, ongoing WhoDunnit entry, the Reflections series, featuring Morgan Farewell (also played by Jane Mattingly).
The Haunting of Blackwood Hall
Saturdays, September 21-October 26, 2013

Special brunch performance on October 6
Dinner Seating at 6:30 p.m. / Show starts at 7 p.m.
Brunch Seating at 11:30 a.m. / Show starts at Noon.
WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre
Performing at the Ramada Plaza
9700 Bluegrass Parkway
Louisville, KY 40299
502-426-7100

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