B&B presents Agatha Christie, cabaret-style
Following the success of Bag&Baggage's production of "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild's Dramatic Society's Production of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol" five years ago, the professional resident theater company is bringing back the drag phenomenon for Hillsboro audiences in the form of a cabaret-style Agatha Christie play.
The hilariously awful troupe of terrible actors will return this Halloween for "The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild's Dramatic Society's Murder at Checkmate Manor." The play follows four small town British community theatre actresses and one incompetent stage manager who are touring the United States with a production of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. Written by Walter Zerling Jr. and David McGillvary, the production is being directed by B&B Founding Artistic Director Scott Palmer and assistant directed by Associate Artistic Director Cassie Greer.
"These shows are, in a word, hilarious," said Palmer. "Essentially, they are a kind of Monty Python-style spoof of English community theaters. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. It is one catastrophe after another, all while the ladies of Farndale desperately try to get the train back on the tracks."
As the ladies — played by Patrick Spike, Jeremy Sloan, Norman Wilson and Tyler Buswell — attempt to stage "And Then There Were None," a Christie classic, the set consistently falls apart, a dog is lost and the cast has to put on a fashion show in the middle of the play to raise money for their costume designer who recently sowed her fingers shut and became concussed.
"We're not prepared, or smart, or talented," said Wilson. "These ladies that we're playing, they have to play all of these different roles, and things do not go smoothly."
The Farndale shows were very popular throughout the 1970s — they're ripe with farce, slapstick, wordplay, visual sight gags and just about anything else to get some laughter out of audiences. They eventually faded from the entertainment world as time went on due to organizations putting on the bad-theater concept on, well, badly. Since the shows come from Britain, Palmer and company worked to "American-ize" a lot of the jokes.
"There are very few roles that offer actors this kind of challenge," said Spike. "To play terrible actors really well is very difficult, and to do so in six inch heels and a massive wig is even harder. In the end, the Farndale shows are just an enormous amount of fun for the actors and the audience."
Sloan noted that finding voices and dialects for the characters has also been a challenge, as the crew are playing characters of different genders, who are in turn struggling to play different Christie characters.
The stage manager, Gordon, played by Arianne Jacques, is forced to step in for one of the ladies at the last minute, adding to the chaos already brewing onstage.
"He didn't really know what he signed up for," said Jacques. "He also has absolutely no idea how to work with these women — but he's trying his best."
Palmer and company wanted to wait until they had their own space to bring back the popular drag production, as The Vault gives the crew more leeway to tweak performances to play by B&B's rules. The company also needed another smash hit for Halloween.
"It's great because this is already a very funny group of people, so during rehearsals, they're always doing things to make each other laugh, and constantly experimenting, and a lot of off-the-cuff moments happen that we decide to keep," said Palmer. "The Farndale show we threw last time was a big success, and this one is also wild and hilarious."
Performances will take place at B&B's new permanent home, The Vault Theatre & Event Space, 350 E. Main St., from Oct. 12 to 31, with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and all other performances at 7:30 p.m. The very first showing will be a Pay What You Will performance.
There is a content advisory warning for adult situations, language and themes, due to the play being a drag show farce about a murder mystery. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students and seniors. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.bagnbaggage.org or call the box office at 503-345-9590.