BFA cohort's The (Un)Usual Suspects turns Clue into a gut-busting comedy

Down West Mall from the white tents, booming sound system and costumed revelry of The Calendar’s Halloween party last weekend in the black box of the Dorothy Somerset Studio, a troupe of acting students donned a different type of costume: thick paper mache masks for their latest show, The (Un)usual suspects.

The BFA acting class of 2024’s murder mystery commedia dell’arte show, The (Un)Usual Suspects, ran October 26–29. The play drew inspiration from the popular board game Clue featuring adapted versions characters such as Ms. Scarlett and Colonel Mustard.

The play prompted the age-old question, "Who dunnit?" but with comedic complexity that washed over the crowd like fresh air. The constant stream of innuendos turned a wholesome family game into a lively and raunchy comedy.

It incorporated the three categories of characters for a traditional commedia dell’arte show: servants, lovers and masters — all performed wearing paper mache comedic masks on the top halves of their faces. Unlike the masks we've become accustomed to during the pandemic, it was a twist for the opposite end of the actors’ faces to be masked.

The play moved quickly — hitting around an hour, making every moment one to savour. Musical interludes, belly aching laughter and interactive crowd experiences made it altogether an enjoyable and flavourful show.

UBC adjunct professor and director of The (Un)Usual Suspects Susan Bertoia said the show changed every time the cast performed it. While the play was scripted, Bertoia said that play depended on a bit off improv and audience contribution, describing it as a “live sitcom.”

After two years of COVID-19, Bertoia said the students are eager to be back on stage. “It’s such a fun rehearsal room to be in,” she said. “We’re always laughing.”

Third-year BFA acting student Julia Eckert, who played Mrs. Peacock, said the show “is a testament to how much can get done so quickly with a great group of people and such incredible creative minds.” The students only began working on the production at the beginning of October.

It was one of those shows that was pure fun for everyone in the room, especially those on the stage. The actors’ chemistry was excellent; a result of their connections as a close-knit academic cohort. I also peered at the lighting booth mid-way through the show and saw the person working there smiling wide: a nod to how funny the show was given that they had likely seen the show shy of a hundred times during rehearsals.

Commedia was a fantastic and underrated Halloweekend night activity. This BFA cohort is one to watch.