— L-R: Kris Przednowek, Sean McQuillan, Tim Carlson and Kazz Leskard. Photo: David Cooper
THE 13TH CHAIR
Move over, Agatha Christie! Studio 58 lets loose on a chestnut from the silent film era and turns it into an outrageous exercise in style. As over-the-top as you can get, this is a fun show that showcases the skills of director Sarah Rodgers and costume designer Mara Gottler more than it does the talents of the student actors—with a few key exceptions.
Originally staged in 1919, The 13th Chair is a classic drawing room murder mystery featuring a group of upper class twits in a country house—the kind of people who say “Oh rot!” One of them turns up dead during a séance led by a medium. Cue the Inspector, the interrogation, and the revelation of the guilty party and the motive.
Rodgers lets us know the kind of show this is going to be even before it starts, opening (and closing) it with a couple of vaudeville performers (Andrea Houssin and Joel Ballard) who sing period songs and do Roaring Twenties shtick to the accompaniment of Matt Grinke’s excellent ragtime piano.
Grinke plays a key role in the production, musically underlining melodramatic moments silent-film style, and often striking a chord to cue the actors to turn en masse towards the audience to indicate fear or suspense or confusion. This burlesquing of the genre gives the show an endearingly goofy quality, complementing the broad presentational acting style. The comic effectiveness of these techniques relies on their tight choreography and sharp timing. Credit Rodgers for making them work so well.
Because the characters have no depth, the actors mostly just play the style, which they generally do well although there’s an awful lot of posing. The standouts are those with the two largest roles. Cheyenne Mabberley delivers Madame LaGrange, the manipulative medium with a secret, with an effectively unaffected performance. And Kazz Leskard steals the show as the Clouseau-like Inspector. He’s a terrific comedian with some very, very funny moves. Ballard’s song and dance routines are also pretty impressive.
Mara Gottler’s period costumes are stylish, sumptuous, and in the case of the red cloak worn by the character Mary Eastwood, knockout gorgeous.