Review: ‘Clue’ reveals Mercury’s murderously fun turn

"Clue" - Jonah Winston (Colonel Mustard), Erica Stephan (Miss Scarlet), Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Mr. Green), Nancy Wagner (Mrs. Peacock), McKinley Carter (Mrs. White), Andrew Jessop (Professor Plum), Mark David Kaplan (Wadsworth)

“Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.”

If lines of humorous dialogue like that are your cup of tea, or you like laughing your way through a crazy mystery, you’ll thoroughly enjoy “Clue,” the stage play at Mercury Theater Chicago through New Year’s Day.

It’s based on the screenplay of a 1985 mystery/comedy movie with Martin Mull, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and others. The film and the play use the Clue board game as their initial source material: We have various weapons (lead pipe, revolver, rope) and rooms (study, billiard room, kitchen, for example) in which one or more homicides can take place, and we have colorful – and colorfully named – characters: Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Col. Mustard.

"Clue" - Erica Stephan (Miss Scarlet), Mark David Kaplan (Wadsworth), McKinley Carter (Mrs. White)

The setting is the aptly named Boddy Mansion, staffed by Wadsworth, the butler (Mark David Kaplan); Yvette, the maid (Tiffany T. Taylor); and the cook (Honey West). Mr. Boddy (Patrick Byrnes), the host, isn’t initially on hand when his six invited dinner guests arrive, each of them assigned a pseudonym for the evening. “Col. Mustard” (Jonah Winston), for example, is a colonel, but he’s not “yellow” (cowardly); he’s just a bit dim. Conversation at dinner about author Rudyard Kipling leads to this exchange: “Do you like Kipling, Colonel?” “Yes, I’ll eat anything.”

“Mr. Green” (Kelvin Roston Jr.) isn’t brave – his nerves and clumsiness are on display throughout the events of the evening. “Mrs. White” (McKinley Carter), who utters the earlier Kleenex line after admitting to having five husbands, is a bit of a cold fish, while the talkative “Mrs. Peacock” (Nancy Wagner) is a politician’s wife who doesn’t like the awkward silence in the dining room when most of the guests are trying to abide by the request to not share their real identities. “Professor Plum” (Andrew Jessop) is the first to state that he works in Washington, D.C., for the United Nations organization’s World Health Organization branch – its acronym UNO WHO. As it turns out, all the guests – including the sexy “Miss Scarlet” (Erica Stephan) – have a D.C. connection in this Eisenhower Administration/McCarthyism time period. And, as Wadsworth informs them, they’ve all been targets of blackmail.

Who will die? What weapon(s) will be used? In what room(s) will the murder(s) be committed? Does it really matter if you’re chuckling throughout the 90-minute (no intermission) play?

When the movie was released in theaters over 35 years ago, audiences got to view one of three different endings. When it was subsequently released on video, all three endings could be seen. In the play, which closely aligns with the film, the actors show us multiple accusations/endings – clearly relishing the chance for everybody in the audience who’s trying to ID the killer(s) to be at least partially correct.

While the ensemble cast is excellent, two of the actors are consistently spot-on: Kaplan and Winston. For example, Kaplan has a hilarious, lengthy monologue late in the show in which he “retraces” the steps that got them to that point, imitating memorable moments from all the other characters. And Winston’s Col. Mustard gets more than his fair share of laughs in his misinterpretation of what other characters have said (such as when he and Miss Scarlet aren’t sure which room they’re in at one point, and she says, “Search me,” which he starts to do).

The amazing set includes high walls, chandeliers, a secret passage (“Who designed this place?” “The Parker Brothers.”) and rooms that quickly convert (such as the library morphing into the kitchen), so we see virtually every room from the board game. Kudos to scenic designer Bob Knuth for using the limited stage space so well, and to lighting designer G. “Max” Maxin IV for effectively keeping us – and the murder(s) – in the dark at appropriate times.

Long story short: If you want an afternoon or evening of laughs, don’t be “Clue”-less.

Note: The Mercury has a few additional related activities you may want to check out. If you come to the attached Venus Cabaret space up to an hour before showtime, you can play the Clue board game, borrowing one of their copies of the game. They’ve also developed a dozen mini-mysteries, one awarded with each Venus Cabaret purchase; you read the mystery, tap your inner detective abilities, and check with the bartender to see if you came up with the right solution. You can even sign up for Clue Trivia on Sunday nights, answering questions based on the board game, the film and the live play.

• Paul Lockwood is a singer, local theater actor (including the new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” coming to the Woodstock Opera House), Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, theater reviewer, podcaster, columnist, business proposal writer, and past president of TownSquare Players. He’s lived in Woodstock for more than 21 years.


WHAT: “Clue”

WHERE: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago

WHEN: Through Jan. 1

INFORMATION: 773-360-7365,