If you haven't seen the previous installments, here's all you need to know: Clifton Monroe, played impeccably by Richard Mayer, and his sidekick Matilda Parker, played by the quippy Leslie Boles, solve mysteries around New Orleans, running in with an array of zany characters, as they try to get the latest scoop. Even if you didn't know this, the show is immensely easy to follow, and accessible to anyone with or without prior experience.
This episode focuses on a string of murders occurring during the touring of the new broadway show, "Kiss of Death", starring the world famous dame Betty Falls, one half of Kate Kuen's insanely energetic performance. Catching the sniff of an international crime spree, Clifton and Matilda quickly jump on the case, but are parted powerfully by the pestering Penny Peterson, played particularly perky by Kate Kuen.
It is here where the strength of Broadway Betty lies: its advancement of established relationships and character motivations. Even first time viewers feel and root for Mattie to achieve love from Clifton, a love he is oblivious too. We also get to see a particularly dark flashback which explains Clifton's dedication to justice. Scenes like these two, as well as the opening and closing scene, showcase French's comfortability with the universe and maturity of the subjects he tackles. While still jovially and sometimes satirically funny, this episode adds many layers which would normally crush a show, but is handled very carefully and successfully by Gervais.
This episode is also much more adult in a different way, besides dark themes. The sexual content of the show was increased infinitely. Not a bad thing, but again shows how the show has changed from its start till now. It's an adult show for sure, which made the pre-show mini-adventure Chip Parker and the Case of the Dirty Soap Box Derby seem a bit juvenile in comparison, though it was written to be for children, in which case it works. It was a fun little shoot off that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Richard Mayer and Leslie Boles both turn in powerhouse performances, both comedically and dramatically. Both go through severe changes and end the play different then they did before. We get to see the dark side of Clifton, normally played with a sharp-tounge by Mayer, which is subdued for a exercise in humility. Matilda also holsters some dramatic moments, struggling with the relationship between her and Clifton. She proves to be a strong character who can act on her own, a realization that leaves some others struggling in the dark.
Playing the rowdy Chip Parker and mousy [SPOILER], Ashton Akridge both loudly and quietly compels the audience. She’s striking to see on stage, even when her later character is supposed to be unnoticeable. Jake Bartush plays a myriad of characters and was the primary comic relief of the show, as well as being quite villainous. The way he slithers and stealths between all of these roles is amazing to watch.
Laurie Kaufman returns as Mama Pearl, a sort of mother figure in Clifton’s life, and a sassy fun character to watch. Kate Kuen’s Betty Falls has a souther drawl that nicely juxtaposes her peevishly peppy Penny, both performances demanding constant energy and the ability to change instantly. Some of Penny’s pontific puns are lost in Kuen’s rapid-fire delivery, which could be an issue of either speed or enunciation.
James Howard Wright has some incredible fun as the announcer and folly master, reeling us into this world, seamlessly transporting us from location to location with his voice and effects.
The show is taut and precise, clocking in around one hour and fifteen minutes. It is certainly a fast, enjoyable ride, helped by the fact that the cast is clearly having fun on stage, playing all of these characters and reacting to each other very nicely. It’s always much more fun when the cast and the audience are having the same amount of fun and sharing the same amount of energy.
In closing, this was by far my favorite episode of The Clifton Monroe Chronicles , due to its delicate balance of drama and humor, and the maturity and development of its characters. I am looking forward to the future installments, as well as whatever is next from French.
The show runs until May 5th, every Thursday through Sunday at The Shadowbox Theatre, 7 P.M. Tickets are $12, or $20 for 2. Tickets are available through the Shadowbox’s website.