Whodunits are always fun. The comedy “Merry Murders at Montmarie,” being performed this weekend by the drama club at Mount Vernon High School, adds a new wrinkle by being not only a whodunit, but also a whaddeydo? Getting your bearings in a silly mystery like this one is like tap dancing in a sand box; the harder you try, the more you get stuck. Happily, the students performing the show under the direction of Cory Ward and student directors Olivia Glass and Danielle Godby approach it with a strong sense of high-spirited fun.
Author Tim Kelly’s plot has more turns than a bowl of elbow macaroni, so I don’t want to spoil that, but I can tell you it takes place at a Montmarie, a school for girls in Switzerland. A young American businessman, Charlie Overton, has bought the place, but important people related to the students have started disappearing, just as the place becomes overrun with strange characters.
Steven Meeker Jr. gamely plays the straight-man role of Overton, setting the pace of the show and setting up jokes for his castmates. Catherine Blencowe is in a similar position as teacher Lili Zeigler, Overton’s love interest, and does great work carrying scenes and shaping the show. The two have their own subplot as well, involving the question of whether they will get married, but mostly they serve as the eye of the hurricane whirling around them.
Eleanor Griggs does a great job establishing the character of the headmistress, Miss Gwynne, an older woman. Most young people have trouble portraying an older character convincingly, but Griggs not only has a great fussy character voice, she also captures the stiffer, reserved sense of movement of a much older person. Trust me, I’m not giving too much away when I say that she’s hilarious running across the stage in Act 2, waving her hands in the air and screaming, “Zombies! Zombies!”
But if Eleanor steals a lot of scenes, she’s constantly in competition with her brother, Walker, who plays Sidney, an Australian detective, the most bumbling gumshoe since Inspector Clouseau. Walker’s accent is killer, and his good-natured goofiness marks him as being born to strut the stage.
And strut it he does. His manner would be over the top in a less zany play, but here it makes Sidney into the kind of character that makes you lean forward in your seat every time he walks on stage, because you know he’ll do something ridiculous. Sidney’s “disguise” costume, a shiny short pink dress and blonde wig, with work boots, is undeniably funny. But the way Walker proudly adjusts it as he vamps about is freakin’ hilarious.
The mastermind of the students’ mayhem is Helen Overton, played with energy and assurance by Clare Jaymes. Erin Bell brings both buoyancy and mischief to the role of Sybil, one of the students quick to execute Helen’s plans. When a banker named Mr. Waverly, played with amusing sourness by Sam Clarvoe, refuses to use her trust fund as she wishes, he becomes the next to disappear. And as foul-tempered school inspector Frau Bern, Glynis Schumacher creates a strong character with a memorable voice.
Speaking of great voices, Alexa McDonald’s Canadian brogue is spot-on as Kathy, echoed too by Derek White as her Uncle Harry. For further international flavor, Kevan Mowery and Lauren Slower add a touch of Indian dialect as Attar Singh and his daughter Jasmine, while Bethany Kelly and Michaela Shaffer bring a Balkan twinge as General Salonta and her daughter Mara.
Mike Shoemaker, Samantha Williams, Stephanie Fongheiser and Doug Reitsma bring energy and skill to their small but pivotal roles as skiers Rudi and Fleur, maid Bella and gardener Fritz, respectively. Lacey Coleman and Elizabeth Bell made a strikingly beautiful mother and daughter as Dori and Maxine Page; Kaitlyn Phillips and Krystal Hinchcliff were effective as Greta and Ingrid Lars; and Casey Bower and Emily Ayers were good as Mrs. Dinsmore and her daughter Joyce. The whole cast was secure, and seemed to be having a lot of fun.
The play will be performed tonight through Saturday. Tickets will be available at the door of Mount Vernon High School Theater. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for a 7:30 curtain time.