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Inspired Idea, Suspect Plot

If fear of heights, long periods of darkness, and small enclosed spaces sends you into a panic, itís all part of the adventure at Boxcar Theatreís newest play, Clue. Based on the cult classic whodunit board game-turned-movie, this highly imaginative but disappointing live production is certainly an experience to be had ó and it all begins before the puzzling plot ensues.

Unlike typical theater setups where the audience enters and sits at will, everyone waits in the tiny bare-bones lobby while small groups are led through a maze of construction scaffolding and up two flights of precarious stairs. Literally at eye-level with the stage lights, the audience is arranged on the edge of a slightly too-close-for-comfort square perched more than six feet above the floor. If youíre afraid of heights, itís slightly unsettling (especially, since thereís nothing but a thin rope separating you from becoming an actual corpse in the play!), but thatís all part of the fun and adventure. The audience peers down onto the set, which has been brilliantly transformed into a visually stunning life-size version of the Clue board game.

In keeping with the movie, the play is set during the 1950s, when six strangers are invited to a party in a secluded mansion. After dinner, Wadsworth the butler (Brian Martin) reveals the true nature of the party: The guests are all being blackmailed by the seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Adam Simpson) for their dark secrets, which eventually become exposed. In a moment of chaos the lights are turned out and when they are brought back up, Mr. Boddy is dead. All deny killing him and a murder mystery unfolds, with more dead bodies and, of course, a rope, a gun, a candlestick, a lead pipe, etc.

To set the tongue-in-cheek creepy ambience, the performance begins with the first of several too long and unnecessary blackouts leaving the audience twiddling their thumbs in complete darkness. As the usual suspects (Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Professor Plum, etc.) enter the mansion/game board, imagination takes center stage. Like pawns in the game, the actors literally move about the set from square to square (and, at one point, proceed based on the roll of an actual life-sized die). Reality is suspended as the small colored squares on the board become real rooms (i.e., the Kitchen, the Dining Room, etc.) where the homicidal houseguests claustrophobically squeeze together within the confines of the fake walls, using slapstick humor to point out the ridiculousness of the situation. Likewise, they walk up and down non-existent stairs, sip non-existent soup, and cleverly use props every time a dead body is discovered.

Unfortunately, the playís plot and dialogue are so confusing and hard to follow, that it overshadows all the inspired ideas behind this production. Jokes fall flat and the creative blocking turns into a clumsy and overused prank where the actors are constantly bumping into each other or look as if in freeze frame. As the play progresses, it becomes evident that the playbill, which doubles as your game card for deducing whodunit, where and with what, is meant just for show. Like the movie, there are three possible outcomes but trying to make sense of the onstage action in order to guess the dirty deed-doer is literally impossible.

The actors put forth a valiant effort with comical moments throughout. And of course, this being a San Francisco production, everything is over-the-top campy from the transvestite Mrs. Peacock channeling Katherine Hepburn (J. Conrad Frank) to the overtly sexual housekeeper, Yvette, (Linnea George) doing most of her acting from her rear. Although the show has its faults, the visuals are beyond impressive and the experience Ė uncanny.

Boxcar Theatre
Now through February 5th.