Fantastic Ensemble Delivers an Action-Packed Busybody

by Gerry Roe, photos by Shelley Klimes

Old Creamery—The Old Creamery Theatre’s production of Busybody by Jack Popplewell opened Thursday afternoon to an audience that was very appreciative, as it should have been. This 1960’s comedy offers two terrific lead roles and six supporting roles well-served by the company. The play gives each actor something important; as the plot unfolds, almost every character becomes a suspect in the case of a murder committed just before the curtain opens.

The play begins with the titular busybody, the office cleaning lady Lily Piper, having just discovered a body in one of the offices: a body with a dagger protruding from its back. Nearly unhinged with terror, she dashes onstage to call the police. Mrs. Piper, the Creamery’s redoubtable Marquetta Senters, is further taken aback to discover that the body has somehow followed her and is now draped over the arm of a chair in the executive office. Bodies with daggers in their back can’t go roaming around the building, can they? …but here it is, sending Mrs. Piper into another bout of near hysteria.

When the police—Detective Goddard (Robert Kemp in his Old Creamery debut) and Detective Superintendent Baxter (Tom Milligan, another Creamery favorite), who has been summoned from his sick bed where he is nursing a terrible head cold—arrive, they find no body, no dagger, and only a confused Mrs. Piper. Baxter, a bundle of sneezes and nose-blowings, is recognized immediately by Mrs. Piper as Harry Baxter, who lived on her street when they were children. Baxter is less than pleased to be reminded of their former ties but Mrs. Piper is fully capable of recalling them and even takes him off for putting on airs now that he has risen so high in his career.

From there on, the plot thickens and you really need to see how it develops in the hands of this company. This wild whodunit spirals through the rest of the action with zestful speed, allowing opportunities for each of the actors to shine. Richard Marshall, the presumed victim of murder, well played by Jeff Haffner, strides into the action very much alive and barking orders. His wife, Claire, who appeared less than shattered by his supposed death, is well played with a rather frosty control by Jackie McCall. His secretary, thought by the others to have been secretly in love with her boss, is played with deft sincerity by Kay Francis. Amber Snyder’s junior member of the staff makes a wonderful entrance, telling us all we need to know of her character even before she speaks. Robert Westerby, the office accountant, is played with straightforward charm by Eddie Skaggs.

Though it turns out that Haffner’s character, the less than well-liked head of the company, is very much alive, another corpse turns up in another part of the city. Certain clues tie the body to the mystery, and eventually the murderer is revealed. The mystery is resolved, quite satisfactorily, but the real joy of the production is not so much in the plot but in the characters. Though all are praiseworthy, the relationship between Milligan’s detective superintendent and Senters’ busybody Mrs. Piper is a special treat. Each of them is in top form and they play off each other beautifully. Ms. Senters as the busybody is a whirlwind of activity, interjecting her imposing self into the investigation, fighting off adversaries seen and unseen without for a moment slackening her pace and her incredible comic timing. I wish the playwright could have seen her at work, but you can see it and I urge you to do so.

Busybody runs through July 1 with shows at 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $25.50 ($16 for students).

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