Review – When the Lights Went Out, a play

What’s this?  Michelle, you’re writing a review for another play?  Why yes, yes I am.  And without a co-post review of a script, too.  The reason for this is quite simple: because the production has a lot of improv, the script and the show can be very different.  But since I, once again, had nothing to do with this production, have a review.  (It’s nice to be an audience member!)

“When the Lights Went Out” is a murder-mystery parody, taking the best elements of classic British whodunnits like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series and Blake Edwards’s The Pink Panther series,  with specific inspiration from the plays “While the Lights Were Out” by Jack Sharkey and “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie.

Writer/Director Paul Stark pays loving homage to the entire genre, using traditional mainstays such as a British manor home (albeit on the island of Bermuda), an inept detective inspector, a thunderstorm, and a whole host of outrageous characters, wonderfully portrayed by the young cast.

That’s right – this is a youth performance.  But don’t let that deter you.  All of the actors are amazing, playing multiple roles with a wide variety of accents, from Southern belle to French to Jamaican to British, and all of them manage to truly inhabit the characters they play via both dialogue and mannerisms.  The use of costuming to distinguish characters is helpful as a visual aid but none of the actors had any difficulty in convincing me of who they were currently portraying on the strength of their acting alone.  And that switching of roles allowed for some great gags as several actors poked fun at a character they had previously portrayed, sometimes through a clever line of dialogue and sometimes simply with a wink and a grin.

This is not a play that takes itself seriously and that is perhaps its greatest strength.  The farcical nature allows the cast to truly have fun with the piece, something that was obvious to many of us in the audience.  And it invites the viewers to laugh along with the absurdity, the obvious departures for quick costume changes, and all the other visual gags.

While a stage play is not and cannot be a TV show, the use of expressions, audio, and sharp poses allowed the cast to recreate some of the more famous shots of murder mystery TV and film, such as the ominous music, the stare into the camera, and the slow pan across a host of suspects.  I applaud Paul Stark and his cast for utilizing such techniques well.

My one quibble is that I couldn’t understand all of the dialogue.  Not because of the accents, but because some of the cast would rush through their lines, lightning quick, mashing words together.  Part of this tendency might come from the fast-paced nature of the show, the urge to fire off quips and laugh lines.  Thankfully, none of the lost lines made the story hard to follow and I never go into a stage play expecting to catch all of the lines.

If you live in southeastern Michigan, there is one more weekend to catch this hilarious play.  Tickets can be found here or purchased at the door.  And one quick note: the show runs about two hours plus an intermission, so plan on a lengthy stay.

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