Theater Dept's Summer Rep will feature mysteries


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The suspense, drama, and intrigue of detective mysteries have attracted audiences for centuries, and they prompted the University of Iowa Theater Department's 92nd Summer Rep program to perform three plays based on the "Chills and Thrills" of mysteries.

The first play, What the Butler Saw, brings the traditional genre to new heights, dissecting all the convoluted quirks of classic mysteries in hilarious fashion. This contemporary satire, by Joe Orton, will première at 8 p.m. today and run through July 11 in the Thayer Theater.

"It's an aesthetically funny play and is a particularly fun angle to start our series with," said director Eric Forsythe, a UI theater professor. "It pokes fun at politics, the psychiatric profession, the typical mystery form itself, and basically, any institution you can imagine."

The show takes place in a psychiatrist's office in England in which an investigation of "improprieties" is taking place. From there, the play becomes an intricate comedy ripe with mistaken identities, flying accusations, witty "Monty Python-esque" characters, and all the drama of classic detective mysteries.

"So much of it is outrageous, and yet we have to make it believable and realistic," Forsythe said. "That's a wonderful challenge. The writing is so clever and so funny, and that in itself is a delight to work with, and we've got such a tremendous group of actors who love to play with this kind of material."

One of these actors is Deanna Brookens, who, with a graduate degree in acting from the UI, is one in a cast of professional actors. Brookens plays Geraldine, a naïve and outlandish aspiring secretary at the psychiatry office.

"She's really got that youthful energy, which is tiring but really fun," she said. "I think in all characters you can find something to relate to in some way, even if you're totally different in your action and behaviors. You can always relate to certain feelings."

Bill Watt, who plays Dr. Prentice, found his character to be accessible as well.

"Orton is a very gifted playwright and gives the actor plenty to work with," he said. "It's absurd without being ridiculous; it's poignant without being cynical. It's fun taking characters to the edge of madness. You don't always get to explore and play so fully."

David Combs, an actor of 40 years who plays Dr. Rance, said he has had fun working with his funny and talented cast members.

"It's easy to act with other people who are very good," he said. "Because it's kind of a stylized piece; it's a real romp. It's really a farce, all about the characters and the crazy situations, so I think [audiences] will have a real good time."

J.D. Mendenhall. the marketing manager of the Division of Performing Arts, said he, too, believes audiences will respond well to the genre, the same way that other British comedies have attracted fans over the years.

"What the Butler Saw is really one of the most outstanding examples of just pure fun, almost slapstick humor, over-the-top hilarity with some sort of sexual stuff, and spoofing of classic detective mysteries," he said. "People will enjoy being along for the ride."

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