Students who long for the Clue boards they left at home need not feel hopelessly nostalgic any longer. This weekend, the Yale Drama Coalition will sponsor three showings of “Blood on the Floor,” an interactive murder mystery written by Patrick Huguenin ’06 and directed by Lisa Siciliano ’05. The show offers viewers all the fun of figuring out which oddly color-named high-society type killed whom with what hand-held piece of furniture, without all the die-rolling and card-showing rigmarole of the Parker Brothers board game.
But comparing “Blood on the Floor” to a board game robs the exquisitely written play of much due credit. Huguenin’s script is as clever and well-structured as gems of the genre like “Gosford Park.” Huguenin conforms to conventions of the murder-mystery genre just enough that the writing achieves humor through its fresh spin on a familiar theme but never feels stale or predictable. The script is replete with red herrings, dialogue that betrays budding sexual tensions between the characters, and a smart surprise ending.
The casting is appropriate and effective; the actors’ enthusiasm brings Huguenin’s writing to life. The cast includes the reserved Anabel Nobles (Molly Swartz ’06), the fast-talking rumormonger Bethany Nash (Amanda Eckerson ’06), the devastating femme fatale Chiara D’Albero (Dorothy Finnigan ’07), the jaded high-society lady (Jana Sikdar ’06), the self-important detective Ernest Clarke (Will Reid ’04), the uptight professor Franz von Hirschbaum (Chad Callaghan ’07), the smooth-talking Texan stranger Gregory MacAllen (Chris Peckover ’04), the neurotic expatriate Hector Vasquez (Abe Koogler ’06), and the obliging butler Jeeves (TD Smith ’07). The character of Chiara is especially captivating and becomes something of a cynosure during the show. Clad in a revealing black-and-white dress, the shapely Finnigan captivates as the cold but vulnerable seductress.
The actors are in character from the outset, and the effect of their authenticity in such an unusual setting makes the play even more of a delight to behold. Smith-as-Jeeves walks through Silliman in a tuxedo, addressing guests as “sir” and “madam” in that airy voice attributed to butlers. A maid straightens stacks of newspapers students have discarded on their way out of the dining hall with the formality of a regal cook arraying some royal banquet. The guests literally come in from the street; they saunter through the College Street entrance with anecdotes and attitudes. The play offers the viewer an opportunity to become immersed in a fictitious world; further, the viewers are made to believe in this world through their interaction with its inhabitants.
“Blood on the Floor” is not a play for introverted people. The audience is expected to play a role in the story throughout the production. At one point, Detective Clarke turns the characters loose into the audience of “deputies” who will glean clues and information from each suspect. The actors use this opportunity not only to deliver their life stories, but also to showcase their improvisational chops.
During a Wednesday run, the character of Bethany Nash, when asked where she got the pair of hideous T.J. Eckleburg-ian eyeball earrings she was wearing, immediately launched into an emphatic exaltation of the supposed five-and-dime store which was their origin. The capacity for such impromptu pontification demonstrates the actors’ complete immersion in their characters — an asset that pays great dividends to the audience.
“Blood on the Floor” is a sophisticated play. But it’s also fun to watch — or rather — to participate in. Audience members are allowed to vote on who they think is the culprit, but the voting does not determine the eventual course of the play. Thus, the finely-crafted plot of the play is not allowed to be corrupted by the caprices of the audience. This balance between involving the playgoers in the fun of the production and sticking to a predetermined, well-reasoned structure is what makes the play so appealing — it’s not only rewarding to watch during the performance but satisfying to contemplate after its completion.
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