There was a gun shot in the dark, a scream, and suddenly there was a dead body on the floor of the billiards room, and everyone was a suspect.
Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, and many other iconic characters graced the stage Jan. 21 in the Boxcar Theatre Company’s performance of Clue in downtown San Francisco. The performance was adapted from the classic whodunit 1949 board game and its 1985 film adaptation. Directors Nick Olivero and Peter Matthews, who both also act in the performance, showed their devotion to the film by adapting the screenplay of the movie to fit as a stage play.
“We’re both obsessed with the movie,” Olivero said. “We both have loved the movie for years and always talked about how much fun it would be to do the show on stage, because it’s such a ridiculous project and it was like, well, why not do something we’re gonna have fun with?”
Olivero and Matthews paid tribute to the movie’s roots and created a floor plan on the stage practically identical to the original board game. The audience was seated on raised platforms that surrounded the stage in a square approximately six feet above. From this bird’s eye view, the audience looked down on a unique nostalgic experience that changed depending on where their seat was located.
As a result, actors found themselves comedically stuffed in proportionally board game-sized rooms with imaginary walls and doors or hopping from square to square after rolling a head-sized die to get across the stage. The set even included trap doors that allowed characters to leave from one corner of the stage and enter from another.
“Obviously we can’t create a mansion on stage, so using the board game is a fun translation,” Olivero said. “I would think for an audience it’s sort of fun to see a character exit one corner and come in from another corner, which follows the board game, not the movie.”
In the movie, only a gloved hand of the killer is ever seen committing crimes to create confusion and anonymity. As a representation for “the hand,” the company replaced it with a stage manager character who did everything from bringing out chairs to nonchalantly whacking the pesky policeman over the head with a pipe.
Olivero and Matthews also paid tribute to the box-office flop by highlighting the film’s editing mistakes and other problems that stood out as comedic moments, including a character who never gets an entrance, a specific scream used twice in the film, and a French maid’s accent that mysteriously disappears.
Brian Martin, who provided an energetic and sly performance as Wadsworth the butler – originally played by Tim Curry in the film, said there was a point where he watched the movie every day in preparation for his role.
“We wanted to be as true as possible to the movie,” Martin said. “We really wanted to bring the movie to the people.”.
In fact, Olivero and Matthews said that seeing the film is important to fully understanding many of the jokes made in their adaptation.
“Ultimately what we want is (for) people to just recognize how much fun the choices were for this production, because they were based on what was happening in the movie,” Matthews said. “Where we chose to honor the movie and where we chose to depart from it are very specific, so if you’re not familiar with the movie you might miss out.”
As an added twist, besides doing a different ending of the show every night, the directors offered a different activity after the performance on each night of the week: On Wednesdays there was a post-show screening of the 1985 original; on Fridays, a life-sized game of clue was played using the actors as pieces; and Thursdays were reserved for disco dancing in downtown San Francisco at the Kat Club.
“We were trying to find a way to make a unique experience for each show, so it’s like if you come on a Wednesday it’ll be a little bit different than if you come on a Friday,” Matthews said. “And ’80s dancing on Thursdays is just because we love dancing.”
According to the directors, the show has had a good reaction with audiences and its run has been extended two weeks, ending on Feb. 19, leaving plenty of time for audiences to figure out “Whodunit?”