How does ‘The Mys­tery of Ed­win Drood’ end? You de­cide

Dick­ens adap­ta­tion fin­ishes its run tonight at Barker

Woonsocket Call - - ARTS - By KATHIE RALEIGH

PROV­I­DENCE – The Play­ers at the Barker Play­house are clos­ing their 109th sea­son with a spir­ited pro­duc­tion of “The Mys­tery of Ed­win Drood.” The story, by Charles Dick­ens, cen­ters on a priv­i­leged young man, Drood, who dis­ap­pears on stormy Christ­mas Eve and is pre­sumed dead. A host of char­ac­ters come un­der sus­pi­cion, prin­ci­pally Drood’s un­cle, John Jasper, who is ob­vi­ously in love with Drood’s fi­ancée, Rosa Budd; and Neville Land­less, who dis­liked Drood from the mo­ment they met. Sev­eral oth­ers, how­ever, could have an in­ter­est in Drood’s demise, in­clud­ing Neville’s pro­tec­tive sis­ter, He­lena; Princess Puffer, the madam of an opium den; and just maybe, Miss Budd her­self. Un­for­tu­nately, Dick­ens died be­fore he could name the per­pe­tra­tor. Over the years, many writ­ers tried to fin­ish the novel un­til, in 1985, writer and com­poser Ru­pert Holmes brushed any Dick­en­sian sanc­ti­mony aside and turned the mys­tery into a mu­si­cal, one to be played over-the-top and with gusto. Per­haps an homage to the work of the orig­i­nal au­thor, Holmes left the end­ing un­re­solved – to be voted upon by au­di­ences at ev­ery per­for­mance. The Play­ers def­i­nitely get the gusto part right. Holmes set his tale in a rau­cous, 1890s English mu­sic hall where a group of th­es­pi­ans are pre­sent­ing a play called “The Mys­tery of Ed­win Drood.” Be­fore this play-within-the-play be­gins, th­ese mu­sic hall “ac­tors” are work­ing the au­di­ence, bla­tantly ask­ing for votes. The set-up pre­pares ev­ery­one for fun. An em­cee/nar­ra­tor, per­formed with aplomb by Den­nis L. Bouchard, brings order to the shenani­gans, in­tro­duc­ing the ac­tors by their “real” names as well as the char­ac­ters they play, be­fore invit­ing ev­ery­one to be as “un­civ­i­lized and vul­gar as pos­si­ble.” There is a big cast, and ev­ery one pulls out all the stops on their por­tray­als. Ku­dos go to di­rec­tor Joan Dil­len­back for sus­tain­ing the ap­pro­pri­ately melo­dra­matic note in scene after scene. Jeff C. Davis cre­ates quite the char­ac­ter as the du­plic­i­tous John Jasper; if he had a mus­tache, he’d be twirling it. El­iz­a­beth R. Messier didn’t even need the bright red bloomers to con­vince us of the ill re­pute of her char­ac­ter, Princess Puffer, who runs an opium den. Not so re­veal­ing are the somber robes worn by Roger Lemelin as the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle, a man of the cloth with a sus­pi­ciously in­no­cent de­meanor. Those robes, the bloomers, and a fash­ion show of turn-of-the-cen­tury at­tire for the rest of the cast are en­ter­tain­ing in them­selves. Jil­lian Eddy did a fine job as cos­tume de­signer. Same for Dan Cle­ment, who de­signed a smoothly func­tion­ing set of back­drops and props to sug­gest chang­ing lo­ca­tions – and strik­ingly, a lo­co­mo­tive. A good part of the story is told in song, and there clearly are a num­ber of trained voices in the cast, in­clud­ing Re­becca Kil­cline (co-di­rec­tor of mu­sic at St. Charles Church in Woonsocket) who made the most of her well con­trolled so­prano as Rosa Budd, and Erin Mal­colm as Drood. Yes, that’s a woman play- ing a man, an in­ten­tional gen­der ben­der, as noted by the nar­ra­tor. Oddly, as good as the voices are in­di­vid­u­ally, they don’t al­ways blend in duets or en­sem­ble num­bers. The en­thu­si­asm is there, but un­for­tu­nately, the melodies are strained. Through­out this pro­duc­tion, how­ever, the cast has loads of fun, and that rubs off on the au­di­ence, es­pe­cially when it’s time to vote not only on who is the bad guy/gal but also who among this mot­ley crew finds true love. The de­ci­sion is different with ev­ery au­di­ence. The show is vir­tu­ally sold out, with only a lim­ited num­ber of tick­ets avail­able for tonight at 7:30; call (401) 273-0590 or email at play­ers1909@gmail.com. Tick­ets cost $25, or $15 for stu­dents with I.D. The Barker Play­house is lo­cated at 400 Ben­e­fit St.

The Play­ers/Mar­cia A. Lay­den

The en­sem­ble per­forms a song from ‘The Mys­tery of Ed­win Drood,’ pre­sented by The Play­ers at the Barker Play­house. In the fore­ground are lead ac­tors, from left, Re­becca Kil­cline as Rosa Budd; Erin Mal­colm, on the plat­form, as Ed­win Drood; Jeff C. Davis...

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