OREM — Clue, whether as a board game, a film, a video game, or many of its other iterations, has entertained people for over 70 years. The latest version is a straight play written by Sandy Rustin (with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price) and based on the cult 1985 film. Currently on stage at Hale Center Theater Orem, this dark comedy is full of laughs and is a tightly constructed whodunnit that practically kills its audience with laughter.
In Clue, six guests of the mysterious Mr. Body arrive at his mansion. When Mr. Body is murdered, each becomes a suspect. Together, they — and the butler Wadsworth — must solve the murder, while keeping themselves alive. On the surface, Clue is a typical murder mystery whodunnit, but the play retains the elements of dark comedy and farce from the film, which keep the story from becoming routine. Fans of the film will enjoy seeing some of their favorite jokes on stage, but there is enough new material that the play never gets stale.
Director Rodger Sorensen is adept at meeting the needs of both comedy and mystery. Sorensen builds a world where the mood can convincingly change from foreboding to zany. Both the tension and the humor get ratcheted up as the evening progresses, and the staging of Wadsworth’s recap of the evening was a great way to bring the show to a climax. Sorensen particularly embraced the comedic aspects of the show, especially in the treatment of the cadavers in the play. I also appreciated the fluid changes (some of which were choreographed by Emma Joyner), which had a jazzy underscoring and smooth movement that kept the evening at a high level of theatricality.
In addition to the directing, the designs for Clue were critical for establishing the right atmosphere. The set by Jason Baldwin, in particular, effectively opened up the small HCTO into a believable mansion. The old-fashioned wallpaper, intricate door frames, and mahogany floor created an elegant setting for the play. The movable doors (previously seen in HCTO’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) were a smart addition that allowed quick scene changes and a rapid reuse of stage space as characters moved from room to room. Cole McClure‘s sound design and Michael Holland‘s music were essential for adding suspense (during the murders), realism, or even whimsy (during the transitions from one room to another). Kim Wright‘s costumes harkened to the board game, and used the character’s color-based names as inspiration for smart accents (such as Mr. Green’s green tie and white-and-green striped dress shirt, or the purple diamonds on Professor Plum’s argyle sweater) that never overwhelmed the actor.
And there are good reasons to want to showcase these actors. The entire cast is strong, no matter how big or small their roles are. As Wadsworth, Blake Barlow is nothing short of superb. Barlow is comfortable as a proper butler, with his crisp diction and stoic demeanor. But he can also function well as an emcee for the mysterious party, and embraces the show’s farcical moments. April Fossen could do no wrong as Mrs. Peacock. The character’s pride regarding her social status, her batty reactions to the murders, and the deliberate way she humorously moved from room to room were all endearing.
Another standout was Austin Dorman as Mr. Green. Dorman is enjoyable as the mousy Mr. Green, and the character’s fastidiousness led to some great comedic moments (slightly reminiscent of Felix Unger in The Odd Couple). Dorman also used this character trait to give himself stage business, such as using a handkerchief to dab at his forehead when his character was nervous. This added depth to the performance and made the character more believable.
Despite the high production values, excellent direction, and strong ensemble cast, I confess that I did not laugh much. That is likely because I have seen Clue twice in the past 14 months, and so I anticipated many of the jokes. Clue, apparently, does not grow funnier with multiple viewings. This is a problem because Clue was one of the most produced straight plays at professional theatre companies in the 2022-2023 season, and for the past four years, it was the most frequently produced full-length non-musical plays in high schools. Clue risks being overexposed and losing its charm and humor if the audience does not come to the play fresh. I hope that producers in Utah will resist the temptation to jump on the Clue bandwagon en masse. It is a very well-crafted play, and I hope that local audiences do not get burned out by it. I do not want to see Clue become a victim of its own success.
But that is a worry for the future. Throughout last night, the audience at Hale Center Theater Orem was laughing, often uproariously. Hale Center Theater Orem’s Clue is a delightful blend of farce and mystery, and it deserves to be the hottest ticket in Utah Valley.