Everyone loves a good murder mystery in October – except for maybe the frustrated inspector in Ravenscroft trying to figure out whether there really was a murder. The year is 1905. The setting a manor house in England. And, aside from Inspector Ruffing, the characters are all residents of said manor house, each with their own motive for assisting or distracting the inspector from his investigation. This is Ravenscroft by Don Nigro, playing at Walterdale Theatre October 14 – 24.
At Walterdale Theatre, the season is put together by the Artistic Director based on submissions from Walterdale’s members. Director Madeleine Stout says in her search for a play to submit to Walterdale’s 2015/2016 season, she started with Don Nigro because, “his plots are typically driven by character development and really strong characters… I think it really works very well on stage because at the end of the day, you’ve got people on stage in front of you versus something like film, where you can rely on scenery and other effects.”
Madeleine describes Ravenscroft as, “A 1905 murder – or not. An inspector is called in to see – someone has fallen down the stairs in a manor house in England and the inspector is called in to investigate. Did he fall? Did he jump? Or was he pushed? All the characters straight away tell him what happened, but the more questions he asks, the more the timeline doesn’t match and the more it becomes apparent that they’re not quite telling him the truth – that they all have a slightly different idea of what happened. He has to unravel all of the different stories – what’s the truth, what’s a half-truth and what’s a straight-out lie? Who’s motive is what?”
“Sherlock Holmes never had this much trouble.” – Inspector Ruffing
To Madeleine, this quote from the second act of Ravenscroft in some ways encapsulates what is so fun about the show. “I really like that quote because it spoke to the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s in the second act that the quote pops up and he’s established that everyone is lying. [He’s thinking] ‘This is ridiculous, you’re still lying. You’re trying to bribe me.’ I like that it spoke to the more ridiculous side of the play, rather than the more serious side. There’s a big dichotomy between act one and act two that’s really fun to play with. In act two, the inspector starts drinking and things kind of go downhill. Whereas in act one, he comes in with the intention of solving the puzzle – ‘What’s going on here? I’m going to get to the truth.’ ”
Focusing on character development was key for the cast and crew of this production of Ravenscroft. Madeleine says, “I really wanted to bring the characters out as strongly as possible. And I wanted to play with the idea that this story is in Ruffing’s head without making it to hard to follow. We wanted to tell the story from Ruffing’s perspective – the characters aren’t quite the way you think they are, because the story is from his perspective – how he perceives them. It’s finding a balance between that and having them being real and believable and having the audience follow along as well. It was fun to play with – we’ve played with it in the design as well, how Ruffing is perceiving and sorting and organizing information.”
One of the things that’s unique about Ravenscroft is that Don Nigro has written that all of the characters stay on stage during the first act, which is mostly one-on-one interviews between Inspector Ruffing and the rest of the characters. Madeleine says they’ve staged this so that the characters on stage help portray Ruffing’s thought process and elevate the energy on stage. “When we were rehearsing, we didn’t have the actors sit in the background… but we found once we added them in, it really changed the energy of the show and really added something because they had to be in character the whole time. It works really well – Dolly, for example, who is anxious and tense, it’s exhausting for [the actress, Brittany Hinse] to sit there in character the whole time, but it really adds something to the show… If they’re being talked about by Ruffing and the person he’s interviewing, they kind of look and start to get engaged and come to the edges of his mind.”