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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Family reunion... with a touch of murder

Barnett, Barnsdale, Barton, Barstow, Barbara, and more... Somebody bumped off Barnaby, and nobody seems to know why! From murder mystery to treasure hunt, this Waukesha Civic performance brings it all.

It seems that Barnaby had a motive to off any one of his family members, but nobody can conjure up a reasonable motive to end Barnaby. With a storm a-brewin' outside, the suspects are forced to solve the mystery, or else, potentially face the murderer themselves.

All photos courtesy of Van James Photography. (Left to Right) Mandi Veeder as Rosalind Barstow, Joyce Sponcia as Miss Barnsdale, Tammy Vrba as Lady Barbara Fenwick, Mike Crowley as Orion Leduc, Brenda Poppy as Dora Dunstock, and Jim Donaldson as Jeff Barnett.

Lady Barbara, played by Tammy Vrba, is the show's best constant feature. Hard-of-hearing, Barbara is often lounging in the background of crucial scenes, and yet remains entirely ignorant of the threat over her entire family. This results in strategically staggered breaks from the drama, as Barbara puts pieces together scenes behind everybody else.

The show is led by Jim Donaldson as Jeff Barnett, the sole character with enough separation from the circumstances to sort things out for himself. Donaldson carries the performance with his energy and comedic timing. The audience connects to his perspective on the tale - as thing grow more complex and convoluted, he speaks the viewers' minds.

But Why Bump Off Barnaby? has the makings of a good farce. With mistaken identities, quirky wordplay, hidden doors, and a whole lot of murder, it harkens to pieces like Civic's Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 from last season. The pace of the show lags, however, stealing the thunder of otherwise well-written jokes. Director David Kaye could run the performance at double its current speed.

(Left to right) Elias Venson as Barnaby Folcey, Jim Donaldson as Jeff Barnett, Andrea Roedel-Schoeder as Magnolia.

With Barnett being the only born American character in this ensemble piece, the lack of a dialect coach for the piece is a crucial mistake. The cast ranges from spotty delivery to no attempt at an accent at all. Because the play has many elements which require attention to who is who and from where, Kaye's omission of this role in his company leaves audiences confused beyond what the script calls for.

Despite the flaws, the performance is light and enjoyable. The twists and turns are delightful. But Why Bump Off Barnaby?, albeit a little rough around the edges, brings patrons a dose of relatable family drama with a touch of (hopefully) less relatable murder. The show runs through June 23rd at Waukesha Civic Theater.


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