Broom Street Theater opens its 2008 season with much anticipated (and appreciated) new seating and The Maple Bluff Mystery, a comedy/mystery hybrid that is not so much a whodunit as a whosawit.
Scott Rawson, a first-time playwright and director, has an interesting (if somewhat convoluted) premise involving mistaken identities, overheard conversations and shifting alliances all centered on a bus stop in Madison. The bus-stop contrivance allows the characters to come and go, moves the action along and eliminates the need for a complicated set. A few scenes are a little draggy and indulgent, but there are some genuine laughs and clever moments.
Jesse (Chris Muchka in a congenial portrayal of a slacker) thinks he hears a fellow Metro rider (Brian Wulff) talking about killing his wife after discovering her infidelity. Soon bus riders are abuzz and involve the police. The two cops, no-nonsense Officer Booker (a convincing Tara Affolter) and song-lyric-quoting Officer Fine (Bayshawn Bolhar), have an easy banter and the funniest lines. As the mobster Jocko, Greg Johnson's surprisingly profound and mellow insights play off his menacing physical presence.
I found the two female bus riders, Amanda Hammer as Emily and Annie Jay as Ann, a bit shrill and wondered why they were shouting so much. Anne Bollig as Jennifer the receptionist and Mark Snowden in all three of his roles give more quiet and natural performances (by not ACTING in capital letters with exclamation points).
There were some bungled and muddied lines at the performance I saw, but the cast was generally appealing. When I saw them in the lobby after the show they seemed so enthusiastic and genuinely appreciative that people had come to the show that I was prepared to set aside my quibbles.