Colonial Players has a long history in Old Town Annapolis, with a legion of productions under its belt. Its current offering, closing out the 2023 season, is Ravenscroft, a Gothic-style mystery that hints that it will bewitch and bewilder the audience for the evening.
Doing theater in the round, which Colonial Players lately is calling Theatre In 360°, is no small ask. Yet Colonial Players completes its 74th season in the round, running exclusively on volunteer work and the generous devotion of the community. Though the building is elderly, it’s well maintained, and inside the theater, the bright red cushioned seats are comfortable and attractive.
I do love a good cozy murder mystery. Colonial Players’ production of Ravenscroft initially gives every indication of being that. If you’re a fan of the whodunnit and the Agatha Christie style of writing, you may like this show. It owes some to The Mousetrap, some to The Real Inspector Hound, and plenty to Waiting for Godot. It’s set during the year 1905, in a remote bit of England, and snow is falling outside the window.
We see neither the snow nor the body, as this is a mystery in the “cozy” style, where a bloodless murder occurs offstage. We are already in the midst of an investigation. The inspector is dogged. The first person under investigation is beautifully mysterious. There is much that is familiar here, and I’m ready for the entire show to blow up into preposterousness.
The set looks exactly as a Victorian drawing room ought to do, thanks to set designer and painter Carrie Brady. The floor is excellent. lighting designer Ernie Morton delivers beautiful visual drama throughout the progress of the show. The costumes, by costume designer Christina McAlpine, are well-conceived and executed with great attention to detail, as well as mobility. The hairstyles, created by producer Rebecca Kotraba, do much to indicate the age and status of the characters.
Ravenscroft is written by Don Nigro, who seems to be a prolific writer, though I’ve never read or seen any of his shows. The script teaser describes a “psychological drama [that] is a thinking person’s Gothic thriller, a dark comedy,” but while there are embedded elements of parody, satire, and farce, the plot fails to move. One good thing the script does is present five women, quite different from one another in station, age, and temperament, offering excellent opportunities for female performers.
The production seems undecided whether or not to take itself seriously. There’s a lot that’s funny about the dialogue, but director Alex Brady seems to not be playing for laughs. Many spoofable elements are ignored or glossed over without comedic amplification.
The cast members are convincing in their roles, even when their accents are not. Richard Miller, who plays the dogged Inspector Ruffing, talks from open to close and makes good transitions as the situation and his patience deteriorate. Playing the mysterious governess Marcy, Devin Thrasher is stiff and non-disclosive, though overly heated in her response to Ruffing’s questioning. As Gillian, young Mackenzie Carroll is silly, saccharine, and spooky by turns, inviting both the Inspector and the audience to question her mental state and her motives throughout the drama. Robin Schwartz, playing the angry cook Mrs. French, carries herself like a fearsome warrior with big sweeping physicality, emitting fury that washes over the audience in a palpable wave. As ditzy Dolly the housemaid, Colleen Isaiah imbues the character with loud, obvious agendas, facial expressions of misery and terror, and an unwillingness to commit. In the matriarchal role of Mrs. Ravenscroft, Heather Quinn sweeps around majestically in magenta silk, casually delivering ridiculous lines with down-to-earth aplomb.
It’s a structural feature of the script that there’s no action in Act I, only intense dialogues between the Inspector and each woman in turn. Act II is more lively, with all the characters in the room at once, eventually. When the reveal comes, it’s odd, abrupt, and unclear. Book problems again, I fear.
That aside, the show has several strengths. Affection for the genre, strong character roles for women, in support of live, local theater. It’s remarkable that Colonial Players is looking forward to its 75th season. It’s also impressive that every production, from box office to construction to cleaning the bathrooms, runs on volunteer hours. Another noteworthy thing is the company’s adaptation to new realities. There are paper programs available, but you may scan a code to download it instead. The company has a podcast, Theatre In 360°, and offers live streaming during several of the performances, for those who are home-bound. In the lobby, you may read about the theater’s COVID-related upgrades and ongoing attentiveness to the still-present peril. In short, Colonial Players is working to update itself, and deserves both respect and patronage for doing so.
For people who enjoy live theater but are hesitant about relying on the responsible behavior of others, Colonial Players offers mask-required performance days. Enjoy the Sunday, June 4 matinee or the Friday, June 9 evening performance with others, all of whom will be masked, including staff. For those not yet comfortable with venturing out, there is a livestream viewing option, on certain nights of the show — at 8:00 pm on June 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 and at 2:00 pm on June 4. Your whole family (or whoever is with you) can watch the show from any device you may choose, with the purchase of one ticket.
Old Town Annapolis, with its beautiful bricks, curves, circles, and narrow streets, is not the easiest environment for parking. Street parking, while available, is tight. Additionally, there frequently are road closures and detours due to ongoing public improvement projects. Allow extra time for that. There are garages near-ish, which may not be an option for those with mobility issues, but for energetic theater-goers, walking around in Annapolis at a leisurely pace is quite pleasant, and planning a meal in the vicinity beforehand is an appealing prospect.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including intermission.
Ravenscroft plays through June 10, 2023, at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. Tickets run $18–$25. Buy them online at Colonial Players or choose the streaming option at Ravenscroft. For additional information, email [email protected]
The playbill for Ravenscroft is downloadable here.
COVID Safety: Masks are suggested/recommended, not required, except during “mask-mandatory” performances, which will be held on the third weekend’s Sunday matinee (June 4) and the fourth weekend’s Friday evening performance (June 9).