Tavares Community Theater doesn't have much recognition outside of Lake County, which is a shame. A small group of people decided to come together and start a Community theater 5 years ago, and have maintained their energy and passion to make this happen ever since. For awhile now, they've been searching for a venue while building up their permanent home. For this show, Tavares worked with the new Living Drama Theater in Eustis. This provides Tavares with a HUGE venue (LDT's home will seat 500, Tavares' venues more typical support about 100), with the downside that long time patrons just don't know where to find them anymore.
'The Butler Did It" is broad satire of the murder mystery genre, and if you're a fan of these books (or even the plays made from these books) you'll recognize all sorts of archetypes, tropes and general common threads of mystery writing, as demonstrated by the author-facsimiles themselves. It's important to realize that this production is pushing the 'farce' aspect as far as possible; if you came in expecting a mild comedy you'd be very disappointed indeed. The program does point this out, but I think some kind of acknowledgement in the opening greeting would help set expectations appropriately.
The character are played VERY broadly (for instance, when introduced they each stop and wait for their into music to finish before continuing the scene), and the audience needs to be willing to play along. Where the audience wasn't ready (or perhaps willing), the jokes thudded and struggled. When the audience warmed up, the show more smoothly and all concerned seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Highlights of show include the performance of Shelly Whittle as Chandler Marlowe, Brian Williams' game attempt at Louis Fan, and Angel Allen's campy Charity Haze. Whittle's Marlowe is fuzzy reflection of Raymond Chandler, probably the best known 'Hard Boiled Detective' author in the genre, and Whittle gets inside and throw out gruff one-liners with a world-weariness befitting the character, while his over-the-top drooling over Charity Haze might actually be a bit too much. Allen's Haze is supposed to the bombshell of the group, approaching things with a Mae West attitude and broad sense of herself.
Williams' Fan is hamstrung by our current culture - although really, any culture of the past 50 years recognizes that this sort of 'yellow face' characterization (made popular by the Charlie Chan detective movies) is entirely inappropriate, and so Williams' character take while correct for the farce itself is completely out of step with modern behaviour and cringe-worthy because of it. Nothing wrong with Williams' work here, the character it's drawn from is radically different that anything you'd see on stage or screen now.
The biggest problem is a noticeable lack of rehearsal. All of the characters are, in theory, intelligent and cognizant people - there's no room to claim age-related memory problems on stage when a line is forgotten, and line pickups were distressingly slow for more than half the cast across both Acts. A few quick line reads would greatly improve things, and a few more run-throughs would help the cast gain the confidence they need to dance through the material.
For the price of a ticket, it's hard to complain - the cast is talented, the material and set design excellent; a good buff and polish is all that's needed.
Grade: B . No language issues, Family friendly but youngsters probably won't catch the references.