Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: “Clue” from board game to movie, and now the play–Boxcar Theatre’s brilliant staging makes this a must-see, through February 12, 2011

In Boxcar Theatre's Clue through February 12, 2011, the audience is 6 feet above a life-size reproduction of the game's actual playing board. Characters Miss Scarlet (Sarah Savage), (hidden) Mr. Boddy (Adam Simpson), Mr. Green (Peter Matthews), Professor Plum (Justin Liszanckie), (hidden) Mrs. White (Michelle Ianiro), Colonel Mustard (Nick A. Olivero), Mrs. Peacock (J. Conrad Frank) and Wadsworth (Brian Martin). Photo by Peter Lieu.

A play based on a movie based on a board game–it makes for a curious artistic vision. Peter Matthews and Nick A. Olivero, the artistic directors of San Francisco’s tiny Boxcar Theatre, have meticulously crafted Clue the play for the past four years.  Even before it opened to a sold out audience last Wednesday, Clue’s run had been extended an additional two weeks.  The team hit pay dirt when word got out that their play was ingeniously staged like the classic board game.  The audience is seated six feet above peering down at a life-size reproduction of the game’s exact playing board, replete with 9 rooms–the Ballroom, Conservatory, Billiard Room, Library, Study, Hall, Lounge, Dining Room and Kitchen.  In fact, everything is like the board game, rather the 1985 cult movie that ripped off the board game. 

Ever done a major home remodel?  The interior of Boxcar has that feel–there’s scaffolding, narrow passages and a flight of stairs to navigate.   The seating arrangement is a square, accommodating 11 people snugly on each side, 44 individuals in all, who look down and watch murder unfold amongst a group of six people summoned to a Tudor mansion on a foggy night.  The feel is very intimate, up close, something no big production could pull off.  

You’ll immediately recognize the  six guests–Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock and Mrs. White–and the butler.  First, Mr. Boddy, the mansion’s owner is found dead at the foot of cellar stairs by Miss Scarlett.  The cause of death has yet to be determined but there are 6 objects around the mansion that could have been used–a dagger, a rope, a piece of lead pipe, a candlestick, a revolver and a wrench.  Tensions build as bodies mount and the guests shuffle from room to room having discovered that they all have at least one thing in common–each one of them is being blackmailed by Mr. Boddy and each one thus has motive to kill.   With secrets unfolding and secret passages running underneath the audience’s seats and three complex endings to ponder, this thrilling who dunnit is the best Clue rip off yet.

Why the three endings?  In keeping with the nature of the board game, Clue, the movie, was released with one of three possible endings making it one of the only mainstream movies ever with alternative endings.   Different theaters received different endings and the film was then advertised locally as having ending A, B, or C depending on which ending the theatre had received.  In the film’s home video release, all three endings were included.  The play is true to the movie and gives you all three endings to consider.

The cast is wonderful, anchored by J. Conrad Frank playing the movie’s Eileen Brannon playing Mrs. Peacock, an elderly yet still attractive elegantly coiffed woman who maintains her dignity and marvelous falsetto at all costs. Frank, who was named Best Drag Act, 2008 by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is well known around town as Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy , brings warmth and an outrageous verve to the role.  Not to mention his fabulous satin gown, jewelry, netted peacock feather hat, shoes and bosoms…all designed by Stephanie Desnoyers who is also the on stage Stage Manager.  

J. Conrad Frank as Eileen Brannan as Mrs. Peacock and Nick A. Olivero as Martin Mull as Colonel Mustrad in Boxcar Theatre's outrageous production of Clue through February 12, 2011. Photo Peter Lieu

Michelle Ianiro is Madeline Kahn playing Mrs. White, a tragic and sassy widow who allegedly murdered her five previous husbands.  

While no one can really do Tim Curry doing the butler, Brain Martin shines as Wadsworth the know-it-all butler who guides the players and the game to its conclusion and at the end furiously spews three plausible versions of  who did it.

Sarah Savage shoots for Lesley Ann Warren as the sexy Miss Scarlet, while Justin Liszanckie is UN Health inspector Professor Plum ready to feel up whoever’s within his reach.  Linnea George is Yvette, the pretend French maid who’s voluptuous curves distract from other truths. 

And Boxcar’s artistic directors Peter Mathews and Nick Olivero shine as Mr. Green (Michael McKean in the movie) and Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull in the movie.)

And Adam Simpson, as the stock Mr. Boddy, et al., dies several times–as the cook, the stranded motorist, the lawman and the blackmailer Mr. Boddy.  

Keep your eyes fixed, there’s action below in the mansion and off to the sides at audience level as well.  Before you go, see the movie.  And if you aren’t familiar with the board game, start there.

What does the future hold for Clue?   Universal Studios recently announced that a Clue remake is in the works with a release date set for 2013.  

Details: Clue runs Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma Street (at Sixth Street), San Francisco.  There is street parking along with private and public parking lots, including a garage at Fifth and Mission streets.  tickets:  $25 – $30, (415) 776-1747,

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment