August 15, 2011 --- The Mercury Players of Madison Wisconsin have developed a show, You've Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery, that puts two of America’s favorite guilty pleasures together; a comedic murder mystery and a choose-your-own adventure book! The result is nothing short of a good time! What is most impressive though, is the realization that the cast has, essentially, had to rehearse MULTIPLE shows because they never know how the audience is going to decide! On top of that, Christian Neuhaus and Rick Stemm’s script is packed with so many words (I hope they printed the scripts double-sided), the actors must have needed to sleep with their scripts. That’s not to say the writing is mediocre. On the contrary, they’ve done an excellent job embodying the rhetoric of the style. My only real issue with the piece was that some of the “bits” need doctoring. While some of them are right on target, the mediocre bits aren’t quite landing, and the ones that DO hit tend to get replayed until they are DOA. But they shouldn’t beat themselves up over it. Even Mel Brooks can falter in this department!
The ensemble cast had great energy and looked like they were having a ton of fun, which, in turn, makes the audience have even more fun. The colorful cameos of unique characters brought incredible life to the show. Although, being a choose-your-own mystery, I would have loved to see a bit more “scramble” when the audience made a choice. It was a little too rehearsed, and gave the impression that they’ve had to play out this choice 100 times before. It would have created a little more excitement to give the audience the feeling of, “we’ve never gotten to do this choice before!” During one of the choose-your-own moments, something great happened; they couldn’t tell which choice got the most audience noise. So they had to try a second time. They excitement in the audience as well as the cast made for a great moment of theater. I would have loved it if they did that more for the rest of the choices; pit the audience against each other in a shouting match!
The leads did a wonderful job getting all of the wordy information out in a way that was easy to follow and fun to watch. Christopher Younggren as the Sherlock-type character named “The Detective” captured the arrogant intelligence of Sherlock quite well. However, he depended too heavily on that one note and by the end of the play, seemed a bit monotone. Matthew A. Schrader as the Watson-type role named “The Doctor” showed a great range of character and impressed me with his comedic chops.
I was very excited to see that the show was done is the style of Steampunk. Whether it was a specific choice for the piece or they just love Steampunk, it worked well creating a skewed perception of the classic characters, just like this piece gave us a new take on the classic murder mystery.