A classic whodunit, produced by Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre, takes the stage at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre beginning Friday (Oct. 6), featuring an ensemble cast, a board-game-esque set, complex comedic timing and — the ancient Greeks will hate this one — plenty of death on stage.
Director Ryan Patrick Welsh, an assistant professor of media acting, said it’s been fun to challenge his cast while teaching them the ins and outs of stage comedy.
“The demand of a joke is higher than the demand of a tragic moment because you can feel tragedy in so many different ways. It can take more time or less time. But the joke is on the page. And if you don’t lift the three lines before it, for example, then the other person’s punchline doesn’t land,” he said.
The last show Welsh directed for MSU was “Sweat,” by Lynn Nottage, a story of factory-floor friendships and fractures amid union strikes. Welsh said producing that show was more about “finding moments and having conversations,” but with “Clue,” he said, “This is the punchline, and we’ve got to get there. It’s a skill to hit that punchline.”
Seray Sezgen, a junior double majoring in acting and public relations and minoring in musical theater, plays Mrs. White. She said she has a personal connection to the role.
“Clue is my favorite board game of all time. I played it throughout my entire childhood, and I always won. Ironically, I always chose Mrs. White as my player.”
She said she’s seen the movie, and her character isn’t quite the same.
“She’s colder, the tragedy is hidden inside her, but now I’m demonstrating that tragedy a lot more on stage. I think that’s coming from the difference between movies and theater,” she said.
True fans of the board game will remember the brief thinkpiece dump of 2016 that occurred when Mrs. White was killed off by the game’s makers and replaced with Dr. Orchid, a young Asian woman. This year, Mrs. White was quietly reintroduced, and Dr. Orchid was retired, resulting in neither outrage nor fanfare from Clue stans.
Tyler Radze, a junior double majoring in acting and business management, plays Col. Mustard, whom the actor describes as officious, self-aware and sort of an idiot.
“He doesn’t pick up on nuance, and a lot of the jokes come from the way he’s bulldozed himself into an awkward situation,” he said.
Radze was intrigued by how Welsh encouraged the cast to think of their characters as coming from just a single color.
“It’s been a lot of fun bringing these bigger-than-life characters to the stage,” Radze said.
This is Radze’s first show in the Pasant Theatre. The theater is built in a thrust style, meaning the stage juts out into the audience and three sides of the actors are visible at all times. Radze said it’s been interesting going from the typical proscenium-style stage to the thrust, especially because the cast is on stage for the full 90 minutes.
Creative set design by Thalia Pearce lays out each room on the stage so that the set is completely static. This means when an actor “dies,” they have to stay there — sometimes for up to 25 minutes.
According to Sezgen, the cast has been having a great time rehearsing.
“It’s really funny. Every time we’re doing rehearsal, I think, ‘How am I not going to laugh on stage?’” she said.
Welsh said he feels like the students are finally readjusting after years of pandemic-related protocols and changes to instruction delivery. Both Sezgen and Radze did theater before enrolling at MSU, and they described the past few years of doing monologues and scene work while wearing masks or rehearsing in masks but not wearing them for performances. Sezgen said she’s just glad to be back to “a normal experience.”
Welsh said the transition into COVID protocols was simpler because supporting students made sense. But transitioning back has meant redefining expectations and reacclimating students to the natural rigor of a theater major, which includes days of classes, nights of rehearsals and performances and working student jobs and internships, all at the same time. But for some students, the work is just worth it.
Sezgen started taking acting classes in the fourth grade. By sixth grade, she knew she wanted to be an actress.
“My mom was like, ‘No,’ but my dad said, ‘You’ve got this,’” she said, laughing. “I’ve been doing theater for a long time, but ‘Clue’ is going to be my biggest experience yet.”
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