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Monday, May 22, 2017

Review of "Busman's Honeymoon" at Taproot Theatre—A Murder Mystery With Something to Say


Terry Edward Moore and Alyson Scadron Branner in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Even the most carefully planned honeymoon can have a few unpleasant surprises. For the newlyweds in Dorothy L. Sayers' play Busman's Honeymoon, at Taproot Theatre in Seattle through June 24, 2017, the biggest surprise is the discovery of a corpseAs horrifying as this would be for anyone, it causes complications for the couple as they negotiate their respective roles, goals, and priorities in their new marriage. He is the aristocratic Lord Peter Wimsey (Terry Edward Moore), a veteran of World War I and sometimes detective. His bride, the former Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey (Alyson Scadron Branner) writes detective novels. Although far more interested in each other than yet another case, they cannot avoid becoming involved in solving the crime that has occurred in their own newly purchased English country house.


Robert Gallaher, Reginald AndrĂ© Jackson & Jenny Cross in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Any fantasies they have of a romantic honeymoon vanish as soon as they arrive, even before the body is found. In spite of prior arrangements, the house is not ready. In fact, on their first night there, we come to learn, the neglected fireplace chimneys smoke so badly a chimney sweep, Mr. Puffett (Reginald AndrĂ© Jackson) is called in to help. The play opens to a realistic scene in the living room of the country estate with the soot-covered Mr. Puffett at work with his broom inside the fireplace and all the furniture draped with sheets. The entertaining Puffett approaches his work with pride and professionalism. He also has plenty of opinions.

The cleaning lady and neighbor, Mrs. Ruddle (Pam Nolte), whose character and honestly could possibly be questioned, attends to her chores while gossiping non stop. The resentful gardener and mechanic Frank Crutchley (Kevin Pitman) wants money to open his own garage, and the butler Bunter (Nolan Palmer) tries his best to maintain order. In the midst of the chaos, Miss Twitterton (Jenny Cross), the niece of the home's former owner, arrives to introduce herself and pay her respects. She, like everyone else, is shocked to learn her uncle has sold his house. To add to the confusion, no one has seen him for days. When the butler heads to basement to retrieve some beer, the discovery of the uncle's body explains his absence.  


Brad Walker, Frank Lawler &Terry Edward Moore in Busman’s Honeymoonat Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Additional characters are the policemen, Superintendent Kirk (Frank Lawler), Constable Sellon (Brad Walker), as well as The Reverend Simon Goodacre (Robert Gallaher) and Scotsman Mr. MacBride (Keith Dahlgren), a debt collector. Like all the characters, they contribute to the drama and intrigue of a many-faceted mystery involving various relationships, personal problems, motivations, and other forces that drive the narrative and keep the audience wondering. Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte makes it all work beautifully. 

From a visual standpoint, Mark Lund has designed yet another great set, and the amazingly talented Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes could not have been better. I especially loved Harriet Wimsey's stunning red and black ensemble. The entire production team deserves praise.

In spite of the play's more serious aspects, such as its look at class distinctions, gender roles, cultural expectations, it is full of delightfully lighthearted moments and good humor. All characters have strong and memorable personalities, sometimes complimenting each other, sometimes clashing, sometimes sparkling with energy and liveliness. The chemistry between Lord and Lady Wimsey feels especially genuine, flirtatious, and fun, but not without some push and pull. I would love to see these two actors perform as a couple again. On the side of less fun, the angst of young Constable Sellon and heartbreak of the spinster Miss Twitterton are palpable. 

Kevin Pitman & Jenny Cross in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Dorothy L. Sayers first wrote Busman's Honeymoon as a play, in 1936, before publishing it as a novel in 1937. Beyond writing a mere a detective story, Sayers examined the actual consequences, to both the accusers and the criminal, of establishing guilt and enacting justice. These serious concerns probably reflected her thoughts on the aftermath of World War I and warfare's lasting effect on soldiers. Lord Wimsey cannot possibly approach the investigation with business-like detachment. He is all too aware of how his conclusions can literally mean life or death for the accused.

Just as these characters are caught up in their circumstances, allow yourself to be caught up in this engaging play. Unlike them, you can be entertained and still walk away with your life unchanged, except perhaps having gained some material for deeper thought about the struggle between what we want and what duty requires us to do. You will also enjoy playing detective yourself as you ponder the clues in this clever "who done it" tale.


Terry Edward Moore & Alyson Scadron Branner in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.