December 09, 2009

Piper mystery serves up light comedy

As published in The Erin Advocate.

Just like Macbeth, The Piper of Grimmgilliedhu takes place in a spooky Scottish castle. That's about it for similarities, since the new show from Erin Community Theatre careens through a series of comedic scenarios instead of an inexorable path of doom.

The energy of the cast translates into plenty of laughs for guests as they enjoy their dinner. There is a plot, of course, a lighthearted tale in the murder mystery genre (minus the murder, it being the Christmas season). It is more like a party, with the plot serving primarily to set up opportunities for funny business.

The recipe calls for ample portions of good old-fashioned motivators, like greed, lust, fear of undead bagpipe players and distrust of the English. Blend in an ancient mystery, some clan warfare and a gaggle of goofy Canadian tourists, and you have a quite a pot of stew.

It feels a bit strange to review a play that includes some cast members I know and have acted with in other shows. For me, reviews have never been about looking for things that are less than ideal, but about showcasing what has been achieved by people who are on stage for the love of it.

In dinner theatre style, the actors sit among the guests in the Wellington Room at David's Restaurant, doing their best to stay in character during the dinner conversation. It is as though we are all tourists who have arrived for a holiday at Grimmgilliedhu Castle, much to the regret of the Lord of the castle, Dugald MacDonald, played with bombastic blusteriness by Fred Bilton.

When he hears the ghost of the piper of Grimgilliedhu playing a warning on the wind, the hunt is on for an enemy who has entered the castle. I could tell you what treasure is stolen, the name of the villainous descendant of the McMean clan and where the treasure turns up, but I will keep it under my hat.

You could find out for yourself tomorrow or Friday (December 10-11), or on Friday, December 18. Tickets are $39.95, including a nice buffet dinner of salad, potatoes, pasta, chicken and prime rib roast beef. Call 519-833-5085 for reservations, or go to for more information.

It was real-life bagpipe playing by Steve Rossiter, who portrays the oafish Harold Payne-Lauden, that inspired Susanna Lamy of Hillsburgh to write the play, her third in this style for Erin Community Theatre. The creation was developed with the input of the actors, under the direction of Kathryn DeLory.

"It was interesting to see someone else take it, work it and interpret it – she has a good eye," said Lamy, who also plays the feisty, tightly-corsetted Aislynne O'Rourke. "It's more relaxing to just act in it."

The informal style of the show allows for some pleasant diversions, such as getting the audience to join in for a singing of Loch Lomond, and some lively Scottish dancing by Paulina and Eileen Grant.

The group should consider even more of that sort of entertainment in next year's production. The lulls when people are lining up for their food could be opportunities for live music or other ways to engage the audience.

On opening night, the cast was still fine-tuning their timing, and they need to pick up the pace overall. None of that took away from the many highlights, including the tipsiness of maid Bridget MacBean (Carol McCone), the frenetic energy of Lucille Payne-Lauden (Suzanne Rayfield), the scheming haughtiness of tour leader Janis Eager (Jeanette Massicotte), the guitar playing of Conall Sinclair (Robert Dodds) and the improbable tales of Randall Wylie (John Carter).

The audience tries to solve the mystery, submitting their guesses about the guilty party. In the end, it is Professor Theodore Booker, played with confidence by Jeff Davison, and his alluring assistant Constance Bright (who has a thing for young men in kilts), played with passion by Denise Wakefield, who get to the bottom of things. Just in time for a singing of Auld Lang Syne, for old times' sake.