England. 1923. A dead man has been found in a bathtub wearing nothing but pince-nez spectacles. Whose body is it, how did the body get there, and is there any connection to a missing financier? The game is clearly afoot with two mysteries for Lord Peter Wimsey, the gentleman sleuth featured in over a dozen novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, including the first, “Whose Body?” published 96 years ago.
Lifeline Theatre’s new production of Whose Body?, as adapted by Lifeline Artistic Ensemble member Frances Limoncelli, has something for everyone: a murder mystery with an unknown victim; an intelligent, playful, and occasionally shell-shocked sleuth whose duchess mother, valet/manservant, and Scotland Yard detective friend are his biggest fans and informants; a storyline that intermingles humor and drama along with the whodunit aspects; a beautifully built three-level set in which scenes can quickly transition from a study to a courtroom, restaurant, business office, bedroom, study, bathroom, patio, doctor’s office, sidewalk, and more. (That intricate set by scenic designer Alan Donahue is Jeff Award-worthy.)
Director Jess Hutchinson has a wealth of acting talent on stage, with seven actors tackling 18 roles.
In the role of Lord Peter, William Anthony Sebastian Rose II has the chance to show all the facets of a complicated character who has: the intellect and observation skills of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, the upper-crust style and wit of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles, and, tragically, the post-war trauma experienced by real-life veterans.
John Drea – in the dual role of a nervous suspect and Inspector Parker – creates two distinct memorable characters, as does Scott Danielson as Bunter (Lord Peter’s valet and trusted friend) and a doctor at the coroner’s inquest.
I was especially impressed by Joshua K. Harris, whose appearance, accents, dialogue delivery, and body language were all unique for his characters: a cop who resents Lord Peter’s interference, an American railway owner, an all-business coroner, and a medical student whose fondness for liquor may help him remember key information during the investigation.
Tony Bozzuto, Katie McLean Hainsworth, and Michaela Voit also bring multiple characters to life, including a sophisticated physician, Lord Peter’s mother, and a very emotional maid in the home where the bathtub victim was discovered.
The twists and turns of the plot are worth finding out on your own, either through this production or through the original novel if you can’t get to Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood before the last performance Oct. 27.
If you do plan to see Whose Body?, be advised that steps to seating rows are a bit steep. There is a railing, but at the Sunday afternoon performance I attended, one audience member who admitted to balance issues had a fall on the first step or two. (She’s okay; the house manager and others helped her, and she was able to see the entire play.) Also, due to the fast pace and strong accent used by Rose early on, and a too-quiet Act II scene with Voit and Rose, my wife and I had difficulty grasping some of the dialogue.
On the whole, though, while it’s a bit of a drive from McHenry County, this adaptation is well worth seeing. Whose Body? will entertain, intrigue, and amuse most any body.
P.S. While the steps were challenging, when it comes to accessibility, Lifeline goes the extra mile. Folding chairs can apparently be added in front of the first elevated row. For those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, performances on Sun., Sept. 29 and Friday, Oct. 25 feature open captioning. Similarly, a Sat., Sept. 28 matinee, including a pre-show touch tour, is ideal for those who are blind or have low vision. Lifeline also has an accessibility coordinator who can provide more information (email: email@example.com).
• Paul Lockwood is a past president of TownSquare Players (TSP) and an occasional community theater actor, appearing in over 30 plays, musicals, and revues since he and his wife moved to Woodstock in 2001. Recent shows include Morning’s at Seven (returning to the role Sept. 27 – Oct. 11 at the Elgin Art Showcase, independentplayers.org), 42nd Street, Once Upon a Mattress, and On Golden Pond.
If you go
Whose Body?, Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago; Performances Thursdays – Sundays through Oct. 27; Tickets $20 - $45; www.lifelinetheatre.com