Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 48
Corpse capersThe Santa Maria Civic Theatre delivers Popplewell's British murder-mystery farce with fantastic energy and skill
BY JOE PAYNE
The Santa Maria Civic Theatre has been providing quality live theater to the valley for more than half a century now, and the institution hasn’t suffered from any figurative dustiness despite its age. There are four productions each season; the current show, Busybody, is the third of this season, and is an example of the versatility and skill the Civic Theatre has to offer.
Set in 1960s Britain, the play is a traditional British farce by Jack Popplewell, who throws a murder mystery onto the comedic fire. The name Busybody refers to both a mysteriously disappearing corpse and the cleaning lady who discovers the body in an office. The insightful sound designers at the theater set the mood quite well with 1960s pop music preceding and in between scenes, laying heavy on The Beatles—always a good choice.
Mrs. Piper, portrayed by SMCT veteran Kelly Greenup, is the lynchpin of the story. She discovers the body and calls the police, but by the time the authorities arrive, the corpse has vanished, leaving more questions than Mrs. Piper can answer under the angry scrutiny of Superintendent Baxter, played by Stuart Wenger. Baxter and Piper turn out to know each other from childhood, which leads the nosy cleaning lady to feel casually comfortable around the senior investigator, who gets quite annoyed at not being treated with the usual amount of fear and respect.
The story snowballs as the office’s employees file in the following morning to discover a murder has taken place. Baxter interrogates each in turn, with hilarious interjections by Piper, only to discover that matters are much more complicated than they appear. Inter-office politics, romance, and conspiracy make that task of finding the culprit a convoluted mess.
Greenup’s rendition of Mrs. Piper truly steals the show. Her flawless British cockney accent immediately transports you to a time and place where underwear was “knickers” and grabbing a stiff drink at the bar is called “stopping for a cuppa at the pub.” The characters’ wit and nosy nature fill the play with more laugh-out-loud moments than any primetime comedy show.
Providing a perfect foil to Mrs. Piper is Wenger’s rendition of Baxter. The character, who is sick with a cold and called out of bed to answer Piper’s call about a homicide, can’t keep his anger under control as the curious cleaning keeps disrupting his investigation. Together Wenger and Piper conjure the chemistry that makes the play a fun, fast-moving mystery that’s chock full of laughs.
The supporting cast is a collection of equally talented Santa Maria Civic Theatre members. Their amount of experience runs that gamut from years of acting experience to first-time performances. Gary Prober, who plays the cantankerous business owner Mr. Marshall, is a retired teacher who’s acted in several SMCT productions. In contrast, Rebekah Castillo, who plays the moody typist Vickie, is already an experienced actress despite the fact that she’s still a senior at Righetti High School, where she’s president of the Righetti Actor’s Guild. Although these two volunteer actors may represent a divergence in age and experience, their dedication, enthusiasm, and skill are definitely matched.
This production of Busybody is directed by SMCT treasurer Alan H. Foster, who discovered the play during a sojourn in Norway where he saw a TV version of the play. After discovering it was originally written in English, and relatively unknown in the United States, Foster realized the only way he would see Busybody on stage would be if he directed it himself. Many thanks go out to Foster for bringing such a delightful comedy to the states, and more thanks and accolades to the Santa Maria Civic Theatre for a brilliant and fun interpretation of the play, which reminds that Santa Maria truly is a destination spot for quality live theater.
Arts Editor Joe Payne’s play would probably be called ‘Lazybody.’ Contact him at jpayne