Ghost Train: The Transparent Play
The Mystery Train
It was a nearly-full house...oops, train... on Saturday, September 18th at the Prime Rib Grill, and all the passengers were seated to help solve a murder on the Ghost Train. The characters are walking from table to table mingling with the seated guests (which was only a tad-bit awkward) at arrival, and it is quite a neat little setup. The tables are even arranged in a way that resembles the compartments on a train. Appetizers have already been served, and the evening, however campy, looks promising. This only turned out to be half-true.
The guests find out that they are on a ghost train and that they are ghosts as well (name tags were passed out bearing any name that any particular guest wanted to be called). In the midst of the food and name tags, though, there are bits of conversation directed towards the histories and personalities of the characters. These explanations, however amusing at first, became mere recitations of actual lines they have later in the play - which led to a doubting of improvisational ability on behalf of the audience. But no matter; soon the actors would get to say their lines, and things would become much less awkward.
No, never mind; even with the comfort of the lines, the blocking picks up the slack in the way of awkwardness. That is, had there BEEN blocking. BUT - and that "but" is in caps because - it didn't really matter that it was slightly awkward. The audience forgave it and gave into laughter at the appropriate times. The actual play, written and directed by Wendy Thompson, was less than what it should have been for an event called "The Mystery Train." No real climax surfaced throughout the evening, and the stakes were even less impactful. So what if this ghost didn't find out who murdered her? But the guests were there, so they might as well try to figure out who the murderer was. The characters created seemed to be pretty complex, and like any mystery should have, there was a great deal of detail that went into the order of events on the night of the murder.
The actors were convincing enough - if one chose to just give in and accept the given circumstances. Claudia Copping, who played Victoria Davis (the school-marmish, Stepford wives sort of creepy best friend of the murdered girl), seemed to be the most consistent throughout the night. Her improvisational banter as well as her line-readings were convincing and well-motivated. Most people were ready to accept that her character "done it" just because of how creepily-nice she was (while speaking in constant falsetto). Bob Grove, or Raymond Henry (the insensitive, yet funny, uncle of the deceased in question) started off weak and unconvincing, but he played his part more thoroughly as the night progressed. And his "director" character was...to die for. The Ghost Train improved by about 20 percent once he put on the beret and scarf and started traipsing about the room. Kelsea Victoria McLean was the weakest of the bunch as Marion Henry, the ghost with a goal (trying to find out who murdered her so that she could pass on). Her uneasy eyes always gave her away when she was unsure about a move or a line. She moved like Marion would have, and her banter was pleasantly consistent, but she was, clearly, the youngest actor in the room. McLean's line-readings were sometimes very odd and motivations for saying those lines were, sometimes, nonexistent. James Mitchell's accent as the Conductor, however silly, was charming nonetheless. Perhaps a Conductor is necessary on a train, but it seemed as if his only duty was to follow along in the script and correct the audience-actors' mess-ups in saying their handed-out lines. So every time the Conductor stood up, it was like a giant red flag that yelled "Someone messed it up!!" After the first 3 or so interventions of the Conductor saying something like "Well, Miss Penelope, what did you do? ...what does it say here?" as he fumbled through the handed-out script, the audience just took to laughing every time someone flubbed something. That may just be the risk you take when you hand out 5 scripts to random people in the audience and expect them to watch the play WHILE keeping track of where they are in the script so they can stand up to deliver lines at the right time.
The clues were fun not because they had anything to do with solving the mystery (they didn't give any coherent full-sentence clues), but because they were brain teasers: crosswords, unscrambling challenges, and word grids. The food was good, the costumes were very entertaining, and the general atmosphere was enjoyable. But the problem with this event was that the play was the weakest aspect. Where it should have been the crowning jewel of a suspenseful evening, the icing on the mysterious cake, it was merely a distraction in between courses (a light comedy, if you will). It was a lot of talk, and not a whole lot of... well, ACTING. The desire for a more interesting story line as well as more enticing blocking and visual images was this reviewer's centering thought of the evening. It was pleasant, but ultimately, not really worth the price.
read the review at KC Stage