The play, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” is a weird kind of “whodunit,” since it’s not clear in the performing of it that a crime – like a murder – has actually been committed. But Weathervane Playhouse, a Knight Arts grantee, takes its audience by hand through this baffling play and brings it to neat resolution.
When Victorian novelist Charles Dickens was completing his serial novel, he died, leaving it unfinished, and critics confused about where the narrative was heading. As with any good mystery work, clues abounded, leading readers (and audiences in the dramatic take-off on this work) to speculate over what happened and who did what to whom.
Essentially the story is a love triangle, or two. John Jasper is in love with his nephew’s (Edwin Drood) fiancee, Rosa Bud. Enter a foreign couple – the sister befriending Rosa and the brother falling for her as well. Three men taken with the same woman? Yep, there will be trouble.
Rupert Holmes, a contemporary playwright, took what there was of Dickens’ story and cast it as a musical comedy with a madcap theatrical troupe staging its own over-the-top version of the play. Set in the Music Hall Royale, the assembled company members assume “Drood” roles (some cross-dressing to get the job done), and fuddle their way to the end – with the audience’s help.
When it gets to the parts of assigning blame for Drood’s murder (after the cast makes the decision that the character has in fact been slain), the audience votes on “whodunit.”
Depending on that decision the play aims for a logical conclusion – letting the characters explain in song and words their motivation. At the performance I attended, the group voted Rosa Bud as Drood’s murderer. She had her reasons, she said.
Because it’s a comedy after all, the audience also gets to pick a couple to fall in love. My audience selected out local opium den matron, Princess Puffer, and a graveyard man, Durdles. Nice couple, eh.
For this play to work and to really enjoy it you have to buy into all the contrivances – the musical hall troupe, the abundance of audience participation, the multi-layered characters (of actors playing characters who play other characters) and a melodramatic plot (with knowing stares by the actors). If you do, you’ll have a great time.
Weathervane Playhouse’s cast was uniformly solid and a tight ensemble, so it’s hard to point to outstanding performances. They were all very good, down to the chorus who added mightily to the drama and the ambiance that director Jim Weaver was looking for.
Jasen Smith’s splendid costumes bring the Victorian era to life, with touches and styles that depict the several social classes that this play portrays.
“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is being performed Thursday-Sunday through October 21 at Weathervane Playhouse, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron; 330-836-2626; www.weathervaneplayhouse.com. Tickets are $21.