In the 1950s, during the depths of the House Un-American Committee’s evils, with Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign raging out of control, six unrelated guests receive private letters asking them to meet at a remote mansion. None are told that the others will be present. This backstory of an all too familiar web of collective deceit at the center of government sets the tone for Clue, the fourth presentation of our 20th Anniversary Season.
Surprising that the underpinning of an iconic American farce could be bedded in such a real environment of intrigue? In our first season, I was directing The Smell of the Kill, a very funny play about three housewives who struggle to decide whether to let their philandering husbands out of a subzero meat locker – another grim situation that served as the basis for a really wacky farce. As I struggled to find the right tone for the production, I ran into Richard Seyd, the great director and acting teacher. When I complained to him about finding the “style” for a black farce, he smiled and said, “Oh, yeah: It’s fast tragedy” We both laughed, and I understood what I needed to create for Smell of the Kill.
We have done a few more farces over the years. I think it is important every few seasons to present something truly silly. And that is what we love about what theatre can do. We can go from tragedy, to drama laced with social relevance, romantic comedies, musicals both tragic and light, and at the full opposite end of the theatrical spectrum, farce. But beneath these fast tragedies always lies something visceral and real, something that rings deep in the human psyche, else they would not land on us. In Noises Off, by seeing the set turned around, exposing the motives of the actors behind the role, we remember that we all are always acting. In Yoga Play, we howl as we recognize how quickly humans will deny their vey essence to succeed.
And in Clue, we come face-to-face with human terror, with our capacity for paranoia, self-hatred, and our ability to suspect everyone around us and lose all sense of trust. It is a grim space, and yet, we laugh – we need to laugh, we must laugh – or else we would have to weep. But as we watch this little clump of terrified humans, we understand that their bell also tolls for us. As they scurry and hide and betray each other, we know, as we laugh, we are watching fast tragedy.
Latest posts by Bill English (see all)
- Clue: A Note from the Artistic Director - February 2023
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Luv San Francisco Playhouse and all it stands for! Well done keep up the good work!!
Clue was wonderful!!! Excellent choreography!!! Thank you for a fun show!!!