Taproot’s artistic director Scott Nolte pulled off some crafty sleuthing in finding a script for Dorothy Sayers’ novel Busman’s Honeymoon. He had enjoyed the book and learned that the story was originally written for the stage. The work hadn’t been in publication for some time, but eventually Nolte was able to track down a photocopy of the play from a publisher’s shelf. Lord Peter Wimsey would be proud! The show lays out a baffling mystery with a basketful of clues available for the audience to help puzzle out the solution.
The acting is uniformly strong. Most enjoyable is the interplay between detective Lord Wimsey and his newlywed, mystery writer Harriet. Terry Edward Moore and Alyson Scadron Branner adroitly handle the roles and serve as the focal point for this work. A few years ago Taproot offered up Gaudy Night where the two sleuths first paired off. The troupe offers a springtime treat in reuniting the original actors for their adventure-filled honeymoon.
Scenic designer Mark Lund has constructed a gorgeous set for the living room at Talboys, a newly purchased country home for the newlyweds. Audience members should keep a sharp eye out for details here, for the clues involved in the eventual crime lay all about the stage. Burnt out candles, a sooty fireplace, a malfunctioning wireless, a hanging cactus, a wall clock and a curtained window all will assume key roles in the eventual mystery. When the no-good and never seen original owner of the manner Mr. Nokes is found dead in the basement, we along with the husband and wife detectives are ready to take on the challenge of discovering just how the man met his untimely end. As Lord Wimsey affirms, answering “the how” will eventually enable us to parse out the greater questions of the crime.
The entire cast is up to the challenge and seems to be having a good deal of fun. I particularly enjoyed the somewhat befuddled Reverend Simon Goodacre played by Robert Gallaher. His innocent good nature serves as a fitting counterpoint to the ill deeds surrounding him. Frank Lawler ably handles the role of Superintendent Kirk. He seems to have walked right off the screen of a 1950’s British mystery film. He and Wimsey engage in an entertaining banter, trading quotes from classic British literature.
The play begins with the newly arrived bride and groom ready for a quiet honeymoon in their just-purchased estate. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. If only they could find a bit more quiet time on their vacation! Alas, the estate is besieged by a disgruntled gardener (Kevin Pitman), a talkative chimneysweep, aptly named Mr. Puffett (Reginald Andre Jackson) and the original owner’s lovesick niece (Jenny Cross). All will have key roles in the puzzling mischief that will unfold. Once the body is found, the script moves smoothly apace until the matter can finally be laid to rest.
But Sayers had more on her mind than simply writing a mystery play. She imbues Lord Wimsey with a heavy heart and a troubled mind. He is a survivor of the horrors of the Great War and knows all too well that his finding the murderer will lead to more death down the road in the British justice system. Harriet is there to offer her support and strength throughout the case and together they are able to “set their face against violence.” Though the “truth will out” come what may, we are finally left with a mystery with a conscience.
Busman’s Honeymoon will run through June 24 at the Taproot Theatre, 204 N 85th Street in the heart of Greenwood. Single tickets are on sale online at www.taproottheatre.org, by phone at 206-781-9707 or at the box office.