Silver Chips Online

"Open Windows" for a breath of fresh air

With Blair-based cast, mystery and suspense-themed shorts culminate in hilarious spoof

By Monica Wei, Online Entertainment Editor
February 5, 2009
In a whirlwind of glitzy costumes, drama queens, a tricky teen and foolish men, the local Lumina Studio theater presented "Open Windows," packed with everything that could possibly fit in one show - lies, mischievousness, murder, clandestine romance and ridiculous humor.

The production consisted of three shorts tied together by the common themes of mystery and suspense. The production began on a dark, serious note and slowly shifted into lighthearted amusement, culminating with Tom Stoppard's "The Real Inspector Hound," a hilarious and fun parody of the British whodunit.

Changing perspectives

The event began with "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell and directed by Blair senior Nora McNally. The sheriff and county attorney search a farmer's home to gather evidence from his murder. Although fairly certain that his wife is responsible, they seek a motive - yet overlook the trifles of women.

The haughty County Attorney George Henderson, played by Blair English teacher Keith Anderson, laughed at the women who examine the arrested wife's unfinished quilt and fruit. The men's nonchalance contrasted against the women's nervousness, and the tension throughout the entire skit was palpable, continuously heightening as the women find more "trifles" that illustrate the life of the poor widow.

The use of props was central to the short the items in the kitchen created the character of the arrested widow and the backbone of the entire short. The set of the kitchen was complete with a rocking chair, towels and various pans, adding to the clutter and hectic air of the situation.

But the dark themes of "Trifles" came across almost effortlessly across the faces of Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale (Blair parents Cassie Gabriel and Penelope Winkler), whose constant exchange of glances illustrated horror as the truth dawned upon their faces, closing the short with a somber air.

"Trifles" was Anderson's first shot at acting and McNally's first experience with directing. McNally, who has a long history with Lumina - she graduated from their acting classes and is the company stage manager - jumped at the opportunity to direct a show while in high school. "To direct a play with adults in a professional theater before I graduate high school - there was no way I was turning that down," she said.

Initially, directing a group of adults was awkward, McNally said, because they didn't immediately see her as an authoritative figure. "At the beginning they would look shocked if I had a good idea that made sense to them and came across well," she said. "But as we got to know each other it's been really fun playing ideas off each other."

The whole acting experience was a novelty for Anderson, who was recruited into the show by English and drama teacher Kelly O'Connor. But even though acting was new, it was totally doable, Anderson said. Having a former English student as his director was a "role reversal, and kind of funny."

Imagination out of control

A much more lighthearted second short, "The Open Window," followed. A city man, Framton Nuttel (Blair parent Ritchie Porter), with frazzled nerves seeks a nice relaxing vacation with a friend of a friend in the countryside. His peaceful stay is shattered by mischievous teen Vera Sappleton (Blair sophomore Tasmin Swanson), who weaves a disturbing story of her uncle's untimely demise and her aunt's unwillingness to cope with his death.

The expressive body language and clear voice inflections of Porter and Swanson carried this short. Porter's twittering and nervous fiddling with his cane established his character from the very beginning, keeping the audience entertained even though he was alone on stage.

Swanson's playfulness, accentuated by her sly smile and widened eyes, stole the audience's heart as Vera spun her tale of tragedy and scared poor Mr. Nuttel out of his wits. Hilarity ensued as soon as Mrs. Sappleton (O'Connor) entered the stage and proceeded to speak of her husband in the present tense, frightening the already stressed Mr. Nuttel. An extra flair to the piece was the beginning of Vera's elaborate story of Mr. Nuttel as she exited the stage, adding an extra piece of humor.

Because O'Connor directed the piece and played Mrs. Sappleton, the experience was very tiring. "I don't really get a break. Even on stage, I'm listening and I have to be watching everyone else." But in the end the interactions between all characters meshed perfectly, creating a classic misunderstanding but with an imaginative and funny twist.

What dead body?

But the centerpiece of the evening was the finale - the lengthy "The Real Inspector Hound," a parody of an Agatha Christie-style whodunit mystery written by Tom Stoppard and directed by John O'Connor. An escaped madman has made his way to Muldoon Manor, where Lady Cynthia Muldoon entertains her guests: the womanizing Simon Gascoyne (Robert Lach), the young Felicity Cunningham (Bette Cassatt) and her brother-in-law Major Magnus Muldoon (John Justin Whiteney). Complete with play reviewers Moon (David Minton) and Birdboot (John O'Connor), this hilarious short had the audience in stitches for its entirety.

The actors and actresses maintained amazing physicality and each character had defining movements that created a unique persona. Mrs. Drudge (Blair parent Noa Baum), the housekeeper, was especially hilarious with her raspy drone and hunched, jerky movements. Similarly, Kelly O'Connor and Cassatt gave over-the-top performances as two drama queens.

"The physicality of the characters are so extreme," O'Connor said - yet this very aspect buoyed the piece, keeping the characters funny. Because the Lumina Theatre Group only began rehearsal a month prior to the show's opening, rehearsals maintained a "very intense and exhausting" pace, especially with the great deal of physical movement crucial to establishing the characters.

The lengthy dialogue and all-out drama made the show hysterical, especially with scenes disintegrating into nonsensical terms. "Tom Stoppard likes to play tricks on the actors," O'Connor commented. "Some of these lines are amazingly difficult to memorize. Shakespeare is a piece of cake compared to this."

The card game scenes, in which four characters begin playing bridge but eventually end up playing an absurd mesh of games, were especially nonsensical. "None of the terms I'm spouting make any sense," said O'Connor. "There are words from chess, bingo, cricket, everything imaginable just shoved into it." The ridiculousness of the situations and dialogue only make the piece more fun.

The confusion over the escaped madman and the company's blatant disregard for the dead body (Peter McNally) beneath the sofa only add to the silliness. Even the Inspector Hound (Blair graduate Michael Novello) fails to notice the dead body until he steps on it. Tangling the supposed play reviewers into the show added another element of fun, as Birdboot steps on stage and attempts to woo the beautiful actress who plays Lady Cynthia.

The entire storyline is a crowd-pleaser - the overly dramatic dialogue between Simon Gascoyne and his lover Lady Cynthia was hilarious, especially coupled with the often irrelevant but hilarious commentary from Moon and Birdboot. "Gosh, you're right! I think she does have her mouth open!" Birdboot exclaims after one scene in which Lady Cynthia passionately smooches Simon.

The absurdity and funny confusion of "The Real Inspector Hound" culminated with an unexpected and (of course) dramatic plot twist involving swooning and powerful assertions, leaving the crowd pleased and lighthearted.

The evening sported theatrical variety - from the serious and deep to the lighthearted and imaginative, to the downright silly. Yet the characters and performances stayed strong throughout, the atmosphere was open and every short was engaging and intriguing in its own way.

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/8903