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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Dec. 2: Live theatre at URI

URI Theatre investigates whodunit comedy with ‘Clue: On Stage’

Tony LaRoche

Riley Nedder (Mrs. White), Liam Roberts (Wadsworth), and Sydney Davey (Miss Scarlet), in “Clue: On Stage.” (URI photo by Jesse Dufault)

Was it Miss Scarlet in the conservatory with the rope or Col. Mustard in the billiards room with the candlestick?

Either way, Mr. Boddy probably won’t survive the night as the University of Rhode Island Theatre Department brings the whodunit, “Clue: On Stage,” to the Robert E. Will Theatre starting Thursday, Dec. 2.

“Clue: On Stage” is written by Sandy Rustin, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn for the 1985 Paramount Pictures motion picture, with additional material by Hunter Foster and Eric Price and original music by Michael Holland. The cult classic film was, of course, based on the board game by Hasbro, which is sponsoring URI Theatre’s 2021-2202 season.

If you’ve played the game or seen the film, you know the basics. On a fittingly dark and stormy night, the usual suspects with colorful nicknames – Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Prof. Plum, and Mr. Green, along with Scarlet and Mustard – are mysteriously summoned by Boddy to his mansion.

Greeted by the butler, Wadsworth, the cook and the maid, the six strangers learn that Boddy is blackmailing them. Threatening to expose his guests, Boddy gives each a weapon – a candlestick, knife, lead pipe, revolver, rope and wrench – and suggests that someone kill Wadsworth. The lights go dark, a gunshot rings out, and when the lights go on, Mr. Boddy is apparently dead on the floor. The energetic slapstick comedy takes off from there.

“It’s visually very funny. It’s very well written and the comedy is clean and crisp, so the audiences are going to enjoy that,” said director Don Mays. “Most people are familiar with ‘Clue.’ So, things that they’re familiar with are brought to life in a way that is bigger than life. Big, broad comedies like this are always fun to do and always fun to watch.”

“‘Clue’ is a laugh-out-loud murder mystery that will have the audience on the edge of its seat,” said Liam Roberts, of Warwick, who plays Wadsworth. “The cast and crew have been working incredibly hard to make this truly larger than life show a reality.”

Mays, a member of the Wilbury Theatre Group who is directing his first play at URI, is well-versed in comedy, having directed and written comedic plays and done stand-up. He saw the design for the set before starting rehearsals and that helped frame his direction, he said. The set, designed by Assistant Professor James Horban, re-creates a mansion in the 1950s with six rooms that are moved on stage as part of the choreography of the actors.

“Working with a production team has been amazing,” said Mays. “And the students have been phenomenal. They bring their energy and their creativity into the theater. It’s very exciting to have that much support in a production, especially in a production of this size.”

In rehearsals, Mays encouraged actors to experiment as they discovered their characters, including working on different interpretations of their characters and creating the teamwork needed in an ensemble production.

“Don has said from the start that our rehearsal process is a laboratory for us to try things and see what works,” said Riley Nedder, a junior majoring in theatre and English. “We spent several rehearsals playing around with physicality and voices to try and figure out our characters. He even had me do an entire rehearsal doing Muppet impressions to get comfortable with playing around.”

Nedder plays Mrs. White, a socialite who may have killed her husband and who is snarky, intimidating, and unhinged. “She’s been such a fun role to play,” said the Attleboro, Massachusetts, resident. “She’s definitely outside the realm of what I usually do. I consider myself to be more of a dramatic actor so getting to work on a physical and ensemble comedy has been the best kind of challenge.”

Roberts, a sophomore secondary education and Italian major, wanted to be in “Clue” after seeing a production of it over the summer. “What makes ‘Clue’ so cool is its embrace of witty, quick, and sharp humor that was evident in the film that the play is based on,” he said.

His character, Wadsworth, is the quintessential British butler, a role he fell in love with after seeing the amount of energy it takes to play the role. “I like to think I can bring that level of energy and command to the stage,” he said, “not to mention he is required to have a British accent. Accents are one of my favorite parts about character work.” 

Along with the set, all the design elements play their parts in telling the story, Mays said. With six weapons alone, the play has a lot of props, which need to be readable to the audience and look realistic in the actors’ hands. And the costumes – for 13 actors playing a total of 15 characters – need to fit the period, mesh with the character’s colorful name, and be pliable enough for the actors to move comfortably in a very physical play. 

Costume designer Matthew Oxley, who graduates in December with a degree in theater, put aside finishing a major in math this semester to add new sewing techniques in a Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design course.

“I’m having a blast designing ‘Clue’ and learning the tricks of the trade,” said Oxley, of South Kingstown. “It took me a long time to take the leap. I now know that costume design is my first love and will always inspire me, even though I’m also an acting concentrate and a math minor.”

Oxley has designed costumes for the Burbage Theatre Company in Pawtucket and for a student play and was assistant designer on URI’s production of “Noises Off,” another screwball comedy. For “Clue,” he’s working with the Theatre Department’s costume shop to design many original pieces, including most of the dresses, along with pulling pieces from the shop’s stock to design the show’s look.

“I knew I wanted to design a show my final semester and go out with a bang,” said Oxley, a fan of the board game as a child who still treasures his family’s copy of the game. “High-octane comedies really give a designer free reign to go all out wild and not hold back. The characters are so over the top in this show and there’s nothing more fun than crazy costumes for crazy characters in a crazy world.”

“Clue: On Stage” runs Dec. 2-4 and Dec. 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 5 and 12 at 2 p.m. in Robert E. Will Theatre at the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston Campus. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for senior citizens and URI students, faculty and staff. Tickets can be purchased at the URI Theatre box office in the Fine Arts Center or by calling (401) 874-5843. For more information on tickets and the theatre’s COVID-19 policy, go to the ticket website.

“Clue: On Stage” cast

Character, Actor, Hometown
Mr. Green, Colin Cleary, Harvard, Massachusetts.
Miss Scarlet, Syd Davey, Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
Mrs. Peacock, Paige D’Iorio, Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Professor Plum, Owen Gilmartin, Wakefield, Rhode Island
Mrs. White, Riley Nedder, Attleboro, Massachusetts.
Col. Mustard, Henry O’Brien, Wakefield, Rhode Island
The Cook, Emma Freel, Barrington, Rhode Island
Ensemble Man 1, Omar Laguerre-Lewis, Mamaroneck, New York
Yvette, Jenna Muldoon, Staten Island, New York
Wadsworth, Liam Roberts, Warwick, Rhode Island
Singing Telegram Girl/Aux Scarlet, Courtney Satterley, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Ensemble Man 2, David Weber, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Backup Cop, Darby Wilson, Newton, Massachusetts