Ted Bonman

Ted Bonman

Westside Players set the Pocatello community theater scene buzzing last year when they announced that they would close their 2021 season with a production of “Clue,” based on the 1985 murder mystery comedy, itself based on the Parker Brothers board game. Although the film had a middling performance at the box office, it became a cult sensation for its campy, theatrical sense of humor, and a stage adaptation seemed inevitable. For Pocatello audiences, that day has come. “Clue” is a perfect choice for Westside’s fall show, especially given how it evokes the spirit of the season. The play, directed by Jackie Czerapinski, is ostensibly a murder mystery, but it’s a comedy romp in a killer’s clothes.

Staging a story that began life as a film is not without its challenges. Westside’s stage carpenter Roger Freeman had quite a task ahead of him. The show demands numerous locations inside the mysterious Body Manor — among them a billiards room, a library, a study and a lounge. Most theaters that produce this show do so by rolling rooms on and off or by utilizing a second level. How, then, should one accomplish the effect at Westside, where neither of those things are possible? Freeman’s solution is a blast from the past: the noble periaktoi, a stage technology from all the way back in ancient Greece. The periaktoi is a column with three flat sides that can be rotated to change backdrops, and in this case, two of them are deployed to represent different rooms in the manor house. It’s a delightful engineering feat.

The set makes an excellent first impression. The manor is impeccably painted and dressed, as audiences have come to expect from Westside productions. Dark wood textures and elegant furnishing successfully capture the atmosphere of an old money mansion. Five doors festoon the facade, foretelling the forthcoming follies.

But enough exposition. What of the performances? “Clue” features both Westside regulars and some new faces, and all of them embody the classic characters with aplomb. Phil Shepherd-Blalock stars as the butler, Wadsworth, a cunning figure who knows more than he lets on. He delivers a manic performance, fully committing to the physicality of the role. Shepherd-Blalock’s toothy grin as he intones “indeed” channels the great Tim Curry himself, and that’s high praise indeed.

Daniel Shelden plays the compromised Professor Plum with the right amount of smug superiority, while Michael Czerapinski was simply born to play Colonel Mustard. He masters the comedy of Mustard’s blowhard stupidity, earning some of the show’s biggest laughs. Newcomer Eli Wernigg is a pleasant surprise as the clumsy Mr. Green. Camile Thomsen makes her Westside debut as a sultry Miss Scarlet, and the boisterous Bo Hudson notches another show with her preening Mrs. Peacock. Diana Potter is as commanding as ever in the role of Mrs. White, sporting a striking black suit.

If you’re in the mood for comedy with a light side of murder, look no further than “Clue,” which plays Fridays and Saturdays through October at Westside Players.

Ted Bonman teaches English and theater at Century High School.

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