Choose your poison

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Rupert Holmes
Bases on the novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by Doug Hodge
St. Bart's Players
Park Ave & 50th St. (212/378-0248)
Non-union production (closes May 1)
Review by Charles Battersby

Among Charles Dickens's many works was the unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens was just over halfway through Edwin... when he died, and scholars have quibbled endlessly over who actually "done it" in this story. All Dickens left behind was an obvious killer (perhaps too obvious), a missing (presumed dead) title character, and a mysterious detective who was almost certainly someone else in disguise.

Rupert Holmes took the unfinished story and adapted it into a farcical musical comedy, filled with audience interaction, even going so far as to let the audience determine who actually killed Edwin Drood (which assumes that Drood was actually killed). In the second act, the audience gets to vote as to the true identity of the mysterious detective, as well as who the murderer really is, and even which lovers will live happily ever after.

The original production, by Joseph Papp, was very successful, but that Tony Award-winner was back in 1985, before America was besieged by hordes of interactive theatre pieces, like Tony n' Tina's Wedding and its many offspring. The interactive nature of Edwin Drood is no longer a new and clever gimmick. Its postmodern humor and "play-within-a-play" theme are still funny, and the overall concept for the show is brilliant, but letting the audience choose their own adventure, by voting on how all the plot points resolve, takes the meaning out of the story. It's all very farcical, so there's not much effort to craft a meaningful story, and somehow the murderer's confession loses its punch (in this performance it was exotic femme fatale Helena Landes, by the way).

Perhaps the interactive material might hold up better with more balanced performances and directing. After the audience was seated, the St. Bart's Players energetically worked the crowd in a pre-show segment that seemed to go on a tad too long. Conversely, when the show actually started, there was a certain stiffness to the asides fired off from the stage.

Regardless of one's opinions on the interactive segments, Rupert Holmes's music still holds up, especially "Moonfall," sung by ingénue Rosa Bud, who was excellently played by Reanna Muskovitz. Muskovitz was certainly the standout of the evening, though Scott Kerstetter made a fine villain too. Sadly, the band often drowned out the singers.

An impressive amount of production resources was on display in this show. Costume and set design were exceptional. The 16-member cast were all in period costume, with several members wearing multiple outfits. Designer Maria Castaldo found time to personalize many pieces, like the roses on dresses worn by the character Rosa Bud. The set, by Blair Meilnik, was a towering cityscape of brick walls and stairways, with a handy trap door upstage for surprise entrances.

Appreciation of interactive theatre is very subjective, and the success of each performance varies, depending on the audience. Edwin Drood has earned its status as a classic, even if sometimes it leaves audiences feeling a bit undernourished and saying "Please sir, I want some more."

Also featuring Peter Bologna, Harley Diamond, Amy Jane Finnerty, Marisa Fornaro, Jon Frederick, Stuart Greenberg, Ruth Hastings, Daniel MacGowan, Jessica Mazo, Bill McEnaney, Robert McMillin, Veronica Shea, and Tammy Williams.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2005 Charles Battersby