Playwright: Todd Wallinger
Company: Black Box Theatre Company
Venue: Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.
Running Time: 2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Thursday, June 5, 2014 (opening night performance).
The Butler Did It is an mystery whodunnit drama/comedy by local playwright Todd Wallinger (The _urloined Letter, Kill the Critic). Like all good mysteries, you'll be trying to guess who the culprit is as soon as ladies' man Trevor Barstow (Andrew Davis) is brutally stabbed to death in the kitchen before dinner. It turns out, though, that Barstow's demise is not a tragedy; everyone onstage had ample reason to see him take a permanent dirt nap.
That Barstow considers himself a fan of, and a gift to, women everywhere is not in dispute. Two of his conquests, maid Sarah Jane (Maddy Sneckner) and Kat Covington (Megan Rieger) both had ample opportunity and motive to see Barstow meet a hideous fate.
The first rule of murder mysteries is that the obvious culprit is always innocent. The least likely suspect is usually culpable, but figuring out how and why he or she did it is the fun part. As regular readers of this blog already know, I don't do spoilers, especially when the plot is as dependent on the final surprise as it is here. If you want to know who did it, you'll have to buy a ticket.
Jenkins, the butler (David Olson) and the title character, is the obvious suspect. He reluctantly admits in the first act that Trevor Barstow is the one person he would dispatch to the next world, if he could get away with it. His interest in hastening Barstow's appointment with the Grim Reaper results in him spending part of the first act and most of the second act tied to a chair.
David Olson delivers a credible performance of a proper British butler with a penchant for mocking his masters. His British accent is very well done, and his comedic timing is "spot on" (as the British would say). Acting while tied to a chair is not easy; it requires appropriate facial expressions and gestures to compensate for reduced mobility. Olson's character is never compromised in the slightest while he's reduced to being a seated hostage.
Maddy Sneckner and Megan Rieger are both capable as scorned women. For different reasons, both are relieved to learn of Barstow's gory passing. Covington, the strongest female character in the cast (despite sometimes being confused with a "cat" when she's actually a "Kat"), seamlessly moves from an independent and liberated woman to a shrewd, calculating opportunist, consenting to an arranged marriage for purely monetary gain. Rieger handles that transition with convincing sincerity. Sneckner's British accent is delightfully low class, befitting her status as a domestic servant.
Father Timothy (Daniel Robbins) is a charming, engaging, and somewhat mischievous priest who invites himself to dinner. Robbins has a delightful Irish accent that is perfect for Father Tim. Robbins has both the gravitas to play the priest and the obligatory wink wink personality to make Father Tim a joy to watch.
The set is well done, although it seems to be one door short. The offstage murder in the kitchen requires the actors to enter and exit the kitchen through a curtain. There are three physical doors onstage; the curtain for the kitchen seemed odd.
Wallinger's script delicately sets up the mystery and the final payoff. His characters are decidedly typical of the genre, bringing both credibility and complexity to the story. There is an elegant symmetry to the plot, as both the Barstows and the Covingtons have the illusion of wealth but a justified fear of poverty. The British upper class is the butt of the biggest jokes Wallinger weaves into his story.
The Butler Did It is a safe, entertaining, and a pleasant diversion for all ages. It's a short run, so if you're thinking about seeing The Butler Did It, get your tickets soon.
This show is suitable for all ages. Free parking is available on the surrounding streets.
The Black Box Theatre has been open at the current location for about a year. It's in a fairly well hidden spot in an industrial area; I had stumbled upon it a few months ago when taking my Honda Civic to a body shop across the street. However, don't let the external appearances fool you. Once inside, you'll find an excellent venue with state of the art lighting, a fine sound system, and comfortable seating.
This show closes on June 14, 2014.
Pre or post show dining suggestion:
Carlos' Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Colorado Springs, and it's only minutes from the theater,. If you're looking for fine dining to go with a good show, Carlos' is a natural. They have an early bird special between 5:00-5:30 PM; 50% off somewhat smaller portions of their entrees. That's a good deal; a full price meal at Carlos' can set you back $30-$50 per person. I'm not sure if they have a happy hour, but they do have an extensive wine list and a full martini menu.
Photo Credits: Black Box Theatre Company
Director: Nancy Holaday
Set Design: Kitty Robbins
Lighting/Sound Design: David Atkinson
Jenkins: David Olson
Sarah Jane: Maddy Sneckner
Trevor Barstow: Andrew Davis
Gram: Jenny Maloney
Colonel Nigel Covington: Richard Buchanan
Lady Miranda Covington: Teri McClintock
Kat Covington: Megan Rieger
Father Timothy: Daniel Robbins
Edwina Corry: Karann Goettsch