Theater Review: THE SAVOYARD MURDERS (The Roustabouts Theatre Company at Scripps Ranch Theatre in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on September 8, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


In the US, the term “Savoyard” generally means a person intensely interested in, and perhaps highly knowledgeable about, the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. In the U.K., the term refers more directly to some of the original players at the Savoy theatre but, for this world-debut play by Roustabouts, stick more to the U.S. interpretation. Playwright Omri Schein earns the right to use the term with this broad, non-musical murder mystery comedy that plays off G&S trivia (though you won’t need to know anything about them to enjoy the show).

Phil Johnson

Tiberius Spriggs (Phil Johnson), a fey pompous fop of the 1920s with a passion for G&S, has brought numerous high-society figures together at his classy London flat for a cocktail party. Attitudes of the attendees range from forced politeness to biting barbs (between those with history); no one there could be called “friends.” With different enticements, Tiberius has coaxed each to attend for reasons that he dodges explaining to them for most of Act I. But by intermission, rest assured that someone will be dead. The question is why and, through Act II, by whose hand.

Taylor Henderson & Durwood Murray

Add to the intrigue clues that the murders (including flashbacks to deaths previous to the party) each seem to be playing off plots of G&S musicals. Again, each time it happens, Schein’s script points the facts out clearly, so no patron will miss the storyline or the humor for a lack of G&S knowledge.

TWendy Waddell, Eliott Goretsky & Phil Johnson

The cast is effervescent in throwing themselves into near-grotesque exaggerations of their characters’ stereotypes: Wendy Waddell as an uptight, no-nonsense widow; Taylor Henderson as a vain, up-and-coming starlet with baggage o’plenty; Durwood Murray as a low-talent wannabee actor who can’t see his own shortcomings; Daren Scott as Tiberius’s arch enemy who delights in taunting him; and Elliott Goretsky as the one kind man in the whole group who gets repeatedly stepped on by the whole lot of them. Add to the mix chameleon-like character actor David McBean, who does his duty as the bland butler just fine but is far more memorable in a series of flashback scenes, yielding some of the best laughs of the night when he plays elderly women.

Phil Johnson & David McBean

Yi-Chien Lee’s set design is striking from the moment we sit down, creating a lovely posh pad for the event with oversized posters from numerous G&S productions. Costuming by Jennifer Brawn Gittings coupled with hair-and-wigs by Peter Herman transport us to more glorious days (or, in the case of Tiberius’s nightmare hairpiece, more tragic ones).

Durwood Murray, Eliott Goretsky, Daren Scott & Wendy Waddell

The only downfall of this play, despite delightfully bold performances across the board, is that the actual lines of Act I just aren’t humorous enough, yielding chuckles here and there, but not consistently enough for a solid comedy. The act is certainly entertaining and intriguing, but just quite doesn’t cross fully into funny. Happily, Act II flips that, with far funnier plot points and abundant laugh-out-loud lines, taking the program much more successfully to the comedy it strives to be.

Phil Johnson & Eliott Goretsky

Does it all make sense or feel believable? No, and that’s for the best, really. It’s too playfully farcical for logic to apply or for anyone watching to care. It’s the love child of Clue and Young Frankenstein and anyone not enjoying this by the end needs to be hit over the head with a funny bone. And don’t put that past Tiberius − especially if you dare to knock Gilbert and Sullivan!

photos by Ken Jacques

The Savoyard Murders
The Roustabouts Theatre Co.
Scripps Ranch Theatre, 9783 Avenue of Nations in San Diego
Thurs & Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 and 7:30, Sun at 2
ends on Sept 30, 2023
for tickets, call 619-728-7820 or visit The Roustabouts Theatre Co.

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