Rooftop Productions’ original murder mystery The Curse of Huxley Manor is a laugh-out-loud adventure from start to finish. The story is written and directed by Ted Ballard, whose script is full of puns, quick whips, and clever wordplay, leaving dinner guests howling and chuckling throughout the night.
Guests are first welcomed with signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres as they are transported to the Huxley Manor via the beautiful Evergreen Country Club in Haymarket, Virginia. The large doors to the dining room swing open to reveal Butler Jeeves, played by Andrew Morin. His stoic demeanor and dry humor are quintessentially British, setting the tone for the farcical evening of high-brow hijinx.
Soon after taking our assigned seats, we receive the tragic news — Lord Huxley has been murdered! No one may leave the estate until a culprit is captured. We then meet our hostess Lady Huxley, played by Carolyn Corsano Wong, whose comedic timing and improvisational skills are perfectly suited for the role. Lady Huxley is the matriarch of the manor and is positioned to gain the most from her husband’s estate after his untimely death. However, her aversion to sharp objects is both a humorous character trait and a convenient alibi. In a conversation between Jeeves the Butler and Percy Huxley, played by Graham Charboneau, Jeeves states: “She has such a fear of objects with sharp edges that she hasn’t shaved her legs in years!” Percy dryly responds, “Thanks for sharing.”
We next meet her beautiful daughter Pricilla, insisting to dress as the Goddess Aphrodite. She doesn’t fear sharp objects — in fact, she recently used the very weapon in question to trim her costume! Esther Wells plays the effervescent damsel with equal parts charm and snobbery and is a joy to watch. The interactions between siblings Pricilla and Percy reveal more clues and suspicions for guests to digest before dinner.
The most memorable character of the bunch is Rosie the maid, played by Melanie McCleerey. Rosie is eager to leave work early so she can join her boyfriend on a date to see if the Cliffs of Dover glow in the dark. McCleerey’s improvisational prowess and boisterous characterization made her a crowd favorite.
Throughout the evening, dinner guests take turns reading sides provided by Rooftop Productions that offer more clues and comedy. These monologues were humorous and full of character — giving ample opportunity for the audience to join the hijinx from the comfort of their dinner tables. I especially enjoyed their food-themed monikers including Lord Pumpernickel, Duchess of Salisbury, and Lord Herringbone.
Just after dinner, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson arrive at the manor to suss out the characters and conduct an investigation. Holmes and Watson, played by Tice Rust and Jay Tilley respectively, are core members of Rooftop’s Improv Group The Pun-demics. I enjoyed their camaraderie with Sherlock as the bumbling detective and Watson as the real brains steering him in the right direction — it reminded me of Wallace and Gromit with their playful annoyances. As Sherlock interviewed suspect Ashu the Gardener played by Bob Jordan, the confusion was a fun nod to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” bit.
As with many murder mysteries, some dinner guests are more vocal than others. The tables in the rear of the dining room had a harder time hearing the dialogue over the side discussions and interjections of other guests. The actors handled unwelcomed outbursts very well — a tribute to their improvisational expertise. I think incorporating microphones for each actor may help in future productions.
The Curse of Huxley Manor was a wonderful evening of humor and howling, and I look forward to Rooftop Productions’ next murder mystery adventure!
Running Time: Three hours total (four scenes between courses).
The Curse of Huxley Manor played on January 20 and 21, 2023, presented by Rooftop Productions performing at the Evergreen Country Club, 15900 Berkely Drive, Haymarket, VA. Tickets ($85) included a three-course meal and signature cocktail.
Crew: Written and Directed by Ted Ballard, Stage Managed by Lauren Hatmaker, Costumed by Andrea Oswald, and Produced by Kimberly Kemp. Evergreen Country Club General Managers are Desiree and Bryan Dolieslager.
Cast in order of Appearance: Jeeves the Butler played by Andrew Morin, Lady Huxley played by Carolyn Corsano Wong, Percy Huxley played by Graham Charboneau, Pricilla Huxley played by Esther Wells, Rosie the Maid played by Melanie McClerrey, Ashu the Gardener played by Bob Jordan, Sherlock Holmes played by Tice Rust, and Dr. Watson played by Jay Tilley.