Moving bodies baffle Whidbey Playhouse

A dead body is trouble enough for Mrs. Piper, but a dead body that won’t stay in one place is even worse.

One minute, Mrs. Piper sees her boss, Richard Marshall, lying dead in a chair with a knife in his back but by the time the police arrive, the body is gone.

To make matters even crazier, Marshall, played by Bob Foster, turns up alive and everyone believes Mrs. Piper was just imagining the scenario --- until another body is found and Mrs. Piper happens to have the perfect evidence for murder.

“Busybody,” the Jack Popplewell British comedy presented by the Whidbey Playhouse, had the audience roaring with laughter at Mrs. Piper’s antics. Mary K. Hallen, an 18-year Playhouse veteran, stole the show as Mrs. Piper, a sassy and spirited cleaning lady who tells the police exactly what’s what --- and in a British accent, too.

“Comedy seems to be my forte,” Hallen said. The audience’s laughter seemed to agree as Mrs. Piper incessantly tapped Chief Inspector Baxter’s shoulder to interrupt suspect interrogations with her own insights and played off the cranky Baxter, played by Jim Otruba, in her uniquely cheeky way.

As the comedic mystery advances, the list of murder suspects expands to include Marshall’s wife, Claire, played by Jessica Neill Hoyson. She may dress like Jackie Kennedy, but her less-than-pure motives leave everyone wondering who her secret lover is. Is he slick Robert Westerby, played by Brad Hendrix, who works with Marshall?

Then there are Marshall’s two assistants, Marian Selby, played by Naomi Story, whose feelings for Marshall run deeper than a boss-employee relationship, and Vicki Reynolds, played by Dara Camacho, a boy-crazy typist who even attracts the attention of Detective Constable Goddard, played by Thomas Clatterbuck.

With so many questions and clues hanging in the air, who can deduce the truth but quick-tongued Mrs. Piper?

That is, if she can survive a run-in with the murderer.

Director Dulcey Whyte said she’s sure the audience will get right into such a well-written storyline.

“It’s very British humor,” Whyte said, adding that the very specific timing of who was where and when will keep the audience’s brains going as they try to discern the murderer’s identity.

The quick-witted Mrs. Piper brings the majority of the comedic lines to life.

“She has awesome comedic timing. She’s an absolute character on stage,” Whyte said of Hallen.

While Otruba spends much of his time on-stage insulting Hallen, off-stage, he said he’s happy to be working with her.

“She has all the funny lines. I do all the yelling,” Otruba said. “I’ve always watched her on-stage and thought how fun it would be to work with her and it is.”

Otruba got involved in theater because his children enjoyed it.

“Now he’s roped in because he has such a natural talent on stage,” Whyte said. “And he just fits the part of the grumpy old detective perfect --- perfect!”

“Busybody” is the third show Whyte has directed at the Playhouse but she’s been involved at the Playhouse since 1979. In third grade, she told her dad that she wanted to be an actress so they sat through a Playhouse audition and she’s been a part of the Playhouse ever since.

Whyte has also been involved at the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon, the Anacortes Theatre and more, both on-stage and off.

“There’s really an outlet for any type of person you can imagine in the theater,” Whyte said, adding that the Playhouse needs people to paint backdrops, work on costumes, choose music, organize lights and more, as well as act.

“It’s a nice group of people,” Hallen said of Playhouse volunteers. “They generally want to promote the arts. You can come in and offer time and do just about anything your heart’s set on. I’d like to see more volunteers get involved.”

From mysterious disappearing evidence to some unexpected lacy bloomers, each scene features a new twist, but that doesn’t make it hard for Hallen to choose her favorite part.

“Well, I’m the only one that gets kissed,” Hallen said in accent, dropping back into character. “I’m ever so excited. It makes me blush!”


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