How does ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ end? You decide
Dickens adaptation finishes its run tonight at Barker
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets cost $25, or $15 for students with I.D. The Barker Playhouse is located at 400 Benefit St.
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...