Roustabouts Debuts Fast-Paced Comedy 'The Savoyard Murders' at Scripps Ranch Theatre
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, September 12, 2023
In his program notes, playwright Omri Schein explains that his guilty pleasures include murders and mysteries; with that in mind, he has brought both together in a fast-paced homage to the great drama of... well... drama, in The Roustabouts Theatre Co's new production, The Savoyard Murders, playing through the end of the month at Scripps Ranch Theatre.
Schein is not only the author, but also co-directs this rousing comedy with actor/artistic director Phil Johnson, who plays theatre critic Tiberius Spriggs. Spriggs, who lives in an upscale London apartment, is hosting a party to which he has invited a diverse troupe of theatre-adjacent personalities: starlet Rowena Rawlings (Taylor Henderson), leading man Cyrus Schock (Durwood Murray), flamboyant director Balthazar Bellwood (Daren Scott), snooty patroness Desdemona Chatfield-Snarr (Wendy Waddell), and starstruck milliner Ezra Dibble. David McBean, who plays butler Grizzle, also appears as a series of comedic murder victims.
The production promises "over-the-top theatrics" and "scandalous secrets" and certainly delivers both in its two acts, along with a healthy helping of double entendre. This is a show that is made for theatre folks, performed for theatre folks, and likely most enjoyed by theatre folks; the larger-than-life personas are easily recognizable and not soon to be forgotten, and all are well played by the comedic cast.
The plot of the play, while cleverly imagined, takes a while to unveil and there are quite a few moving pieces; I wonder if perhaps some adjusted pacing, language revision, and more intentional blocking might help maintain a clearer storyline and keep it as light and quick as it deserves to be.
That said, the show finds its funny moments, particularly in McBean's arresting vignettes. As a character actor, he seamlessly finds the idiosyncrasies of each of his wacky personages, somehow teasing them to life just seconds before their ultimate deaths. And, in fact, all performers adeptly crawl into their respective characterizations, making us, as the audience, feel as though we are privy to both great scandal and horror. It's farcical and fabulous and flamboyant... all at the same time.
Entirely portrayed in a luxury apartment created by designer Yi-Chien Lee, the show features simple yet effective light and sound design by Michelle Miles and Paul Durso and elaborate monochromatic costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings that are well-fitted.
An interactive voting card is offered to attendees at intermission, giving audience members an opportunity to weigh in on the scandal and deduce the murderer. I overheard a staff member mentioning that not a single card had correctly named the troublemaker the night prior, a testament to the many twists and meanderings of the script and to the skill of the performers onstage.
Imagine a venn diagram with aspiring murder mystery detectives on one side and comic opera afficionados on the other. Audiences fancying themselves in the middle can experience the whodonit with Roustabouts through September 30.