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Theater Review: 'Clue' ends Playhouse season with big laughs

The farce-meets-murder-mystery-comedy runs through Aug. 21 at the NorShor Theatre.

DNT review
DNT review
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DULUTH — The Curtis Phillips set for the Duluth Playhouse production of “Clue” is an impressive collection of faux stone, wood paneling and painted glass. Your expectation is that each set of doors leads to one of the familiar rooms from the classic board game.

But while there are nine such rooms, there are only seven possible — or should I say, visible — points of egress on stage.

How the classic “Clue” characters get to the dining room, the kitchen, the conservatory and the rest earns the first big laugh of the evening in an enjoyable comedy that saves the biggest laughs for the big finish.

“Clue” the play is basically a cross between an Agatha Christie mystery and “Laugh-In” (if you are a baby boomer), “Airplane” (if you are Generation X), or “Family Guy” (for millennials through Generation Z), with a high-speed twist on Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”

The approach that director Dennis F. Johnson has the cast take is basically bipolar. For example, Colonel Mustard mishears or misunderstands any word of more than two syllables. Michael Kraklio often plays a blustering character, but this time around he does so in such a calm manner that it ends up making the jokes land even harder.

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But while the rest of the cast follows suit and avoids playing the comic dialogue over the top, the physical comedy has all of them jumping hand-in-hand into the deep end of the pool.

There is an eavesdropping tableau of absurd proportions, and the requisite scene where everybody is going in and out of every available door was so bizarrely choreographed the audience applauded when it was concluded.

Sarah Wolter gives a delightfully saucy twist to pretty much everything Miss Scarlet had to say, Jennie Ross as Mrs. White proves once again that she can get big laughs without saying a single word, and Cathy Berggren is an absolute scream as Mrs. Peacock.

It was nice to see Jonathan Manchester on stage again, playing Mr. Green with a goofy little grin, and to see Jesse Davis playing a main role, the rather jumpy Professor Plum.

Kendra Carlson’s French accent as the maid Yvette was so precise it was funny, and Sara Marie Sorenson got what was the biggest laugh of the evening in a one-shot role. Chris Ibarra and Christian Van Orsdel both play both corpses and cops.

When we got to what would be called the “ending,” as inadequate as that word would be to describe what transpired on stage, there were a whole lot of big laughs.

Many of those laughs were served up on a silver platter to Andy Frye as the butler Wadsworth. His insistence on stepping over, rather than around, the various bodies on the floor started the ball rolling, culminating in the hysterical sequence where Frye recaps the entire play at breakneck speed to identify the killer and repeatedly got laughs repeating all of the big laugh lines.

“Clue” runs 80 minutes without intermission. It is supposed to run 90, which gives you a sense of how up-tempo this production ends up being, which resulted in some periodic tongue-tripping.

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Going to see “Clue” all I remembered about the movie was that Tim Curry was the butler, Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s made an appearance, and there were three different endings depending on where you saw it (which did not matter in Albuquerque because it was only showing on one screen, so I waited to rent the videotape). Plus, what I remembered as my favorite scene turns out to really be in Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death.”

So, as long as you have played the board game it really does not matter if you have never seen the movie (or have almost completely forgotten it). What matters is that the Playhouse patrons who made “Clue” their runaway favorite in a survey of potential shows for this past season knew what they were doing.

If you go
What: The Duluth Playhouse’s “Clue,” written by Sandy Rustin, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, based on the Parker Brothers board game, based on the British board game “Cluedo,” designed by Anthony E. Pratt.
Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.
When: Aug. 12-21, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $37-48. Call 218-733-7555 or purchase online through DuluthPlayhouse.org.

Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune. He wrote this review, in the bedroom, with the computer.

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