‘Clue’ delivers a killer ending to theatre season

Lots of performers step in front of the audience with the goal to “knock ‘em dead.” Between the candlestick, wrench, lead pipe, and more, “Clue: On Stage” is one of the few plays to give its cast so many means to accomplish that end.

Miss Scarlet wields the candlestick holder in Clue: On Stage.
True to the board game that inspired the play, Miss Scarlet (Makenzie Sands) wields a skull-crushingly heavy candlestick holder.

Even with a full arsenal at hand, there is one more weapon that junior Brooks Ewald wishes the show had included.

“If there was a sword, I would have chosen that,” Ewald said. “I think that that’s a lot cooler than a gun because that’s just so cliché.”

As Professor Plum, Ewald got past his misgivings and handled a prop gun convincingly at a dress rehearsal on Wednesday, April 13. The show opened to the public the following night, beginning a run that will close out the season for the Theatre Department on Sunday, April 24.

Clue: On Stage is adapted from a 1985 movie.
Before it was a play, ‘Clue’ lit up movie screens in 1985.

“Clue” features six characters who gather at a country house under the threat of blackmail. When their host drops dead, everyone becomes a suspect.

Dark as it sounds, the rising body count and the search for the killer are played for laughs. The dialogue is delivered in staccato bursts as the suspects plead their innocence or hurl accusations against each other. One of the most frantic characters is Mr. Green, portrayed by senior Ryan Kohnert.

“I’m not a full-out person in my daily life, so this is very liberating for me,” Kohnert said.

His terrified rants aren’t as spontaneous as they appear on stage. The set-up and solution to the mystery required precise line readings. Kohnert would run through his dialogue three times a day until he had it memorized.

Mr. Green (Ryan Kohnert) and Wadsworth (Atticus Watson) take aim at each other in Clue: On Stage.
Mr. Green (Ryan Kohnert) and Wadsworth (Atticus/Alice Watson) take aim at each other.

His research for the role unwittingly began years earlier when he watched the 1985 movie upon which the play is based. The Hollywood version boasts a cast of comedy greats. Ewald, for example, follows in the Plum-colored footsteps of Christopher Lloyd.

“I definitely took some things from him, but I also wanted to develop the character a lot myself,” Ewald said.

Plum is a serial adulterer who uses his psychiatric practice to target vulnerable women. Lloyd hides those urges behind a tweedy veneer of professional respectability. Ewald wears his sleaze more proudly with a costume and bravado that recall 1970s swinger culture.

Professor Plum (Brooks Ewald) misdiagnoses a victim in Clue: On Stage.
Brooks Ewald puts a new spin on Professor Plum, previously played on screen by Christopher Lloyd

Before “Clue” was a movie, it was a board game. Those origins can be seen in the lavish set design that mimics the game’s playing surface. The plot calls for eight rooms, each one distinct in its furnishings and easily accessible to the actors. The stage wasn’t big enough to hold them all, so the dining room table was dropped into the crowd within arm’s reach of the first row of seats.

Like the set, the props are also true to the game. Whenever a character reaches into their pocket or purse, their hand will come out holding a deadly weapon. Having to manipulate them while rattling off a lengthy monologue added an extra layer of complexity to the performances. For the actors who lived through it, family game night will never be same.

“I think every time I look at ‘Clue’ or do anything ‘Clue’-related, I’m going to have to think back to the show and play it back in my head,” Kohnert said.

Col. Mustard with the wrench in Clue: On Stage.
Col. Mustard (August Thornton) in the ballroom with the wrench.

If people buy tickets to the play because of their happy memories of the game or the movie, that’s fine with director Andrew Harris. His recommendation to help the theatre industry recover from its forced hibernation during the COVID-19 pandemic is to seek out material that appeals to a broad audience.

“Theatre hopefully makes an audience change,” Harris said. “If only tonight, people come in with perhaps a grim look on life and what’s going on and go out having had a good laugh then that’s enough change for tonight.”

“Clue: On Stage” will play through Sunday, April 24, at Russell Hall in Gorham. Tickets are on sale now.