Friday, October 5, 2012

REVIEW: Murder at the Mansion Presented by Longview's Stageworks Northwest

Longview's Rutherglen Mansion, setting for the Stageworks Northwest pro-
duction of "Her Last Will and...Marry Me" by Phillip A. Kennedy. Photo by 
Gregory E. Zschomler for SWWASTAR.

Murder at the Mansion, a dinner theater fundraiser, features “Her Last Will and…Marry Me”—the work of the play's writer and director  Phillip A. Kennedy—presented by Stageworks Northwest at Longview’s historic Rutherglen Mansion.

The Setting:

The main dining room of the historic 15,000 square foot English Colonial Rutherglen Mansion in Longview, Washington, which was completed in 1927. Much of the mansion is quite beautiful, but certain areas (like the exterior and the wine bar's ceiling) could use some paint and TLC.

The Story:

The players in action, (hard to capture in the ambient light).
Photo by Gregory E. Zschomler for SWWASTAR.
A dysfunctional family gathers at their palatial mansion at the request of the family matriarch so that she may discuss changes to her will. Murders ensue.

Interesting Factoid: 

The story revolves around the fictitious "Rutherglen family.” While the mansion is named Rutherglen, no family by that name ever lived there. The mansion was built and originally owned by the Tennant family. It was named for a borough in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Supper:

Salad and bread with wine are served prior to the show, the main plate is served during the show and dessert is served after an intermission (where the patrons “retire to the lobby” to vote on “whodunit” while the bodies and dishes are removed). Patrons I talked with said they enjoyed the food a great deal. The menu is as follows:

House salad, fresh bread and…

New York Steak w/ Baked Potato & Sautéed Vegetables
Columbia River Plank-cooked King Salmon w/ Rissoto & Grilled Asparagus
Pesto Crusted Chicken Breast w/ Oven-roasted Baby Reds & Sautéed Vegetables
Cheese Tortellini & Fresh Vegetables in Marinara Sauce

…with a dessert and a glass of wine.

The Staging:

Interactive “theater in the round” so to speak. The play takes place primarily at the center of the dining room around a table in front of a beautiful fireplace across from a large mirror. Only ambient light is used.

Warm up begins as dinner is served when Rosary Rutherglen slinks into the room to flirt with the male diners. Other characters soon make their entrances and ad lib briefly with the audience as well.

The Stars:

Scarlett Clark, Derek Mesford, Deborah Wornick, Lois Idlett, Donnia Reed (a lovely singing voice), Lorraine Little, Zachary Christin, Ginny Fleshman, Cody James Swires, Linda B. Johnson and Trevor Scott are the players. 

Standout performances were given by Reed as Rita, Swires as the waiter Jeremy, Little as the medium Fionella, and Mesford as Bobby the matriarch’s nurse. Both Swires’ and Mesford’s performances were exceptional.

The Skinny:

I’d truly love to sing soaring praises for this fundraising production. I'm sorry, I just can’t. It wasn't horrible; it just wasn't great. Honestly, I expected much better, since I absolutely loved the last Stageworks Northwest production I saw (last season’s “Trouble Bubbles at the Hot Springs”). But this show lacked the strong, talented cast of that production; the script was weak (the premise was good, but the dialogue lacked zip) and the delivery seemed stilted.

The pace was slow; the intended comedy and slapstick (for the most part) didn’t really work. Some of the intended humor was rather low brow. The melodramatic piece lacked the intrigue and weight needed for genuine mystery. It kind of ended without a strong twist nor were there strong “red herrings.” The piece couldn't seem to find it's identity.

But there were some good parts, too. I liked the pre-performance and intermission ad lib; I liked the aforementioned standout characters and I loved the lines: “Maybe we could throw her in Lake Sacajawea?” “We want her to be quiet, not grow a third arm.” And the setting was very nice.

The fundraiser for Stageworks Northwest will aid in the refurbishment of their new theater. Tickets, $55, includes dinner and dessert and plays 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights now through October 27.

And DO note: The show takes place at Longview's Rutherglen Mansion (which you should MapQuest if you've not been there before) and NOT at the new theater. Call 360-425-5816 for more information and reservations.

WARNINGS: This is an adult presentation. There is some course language and bawdy sexual talk. 

By Gregory E. Zschomler

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