THE MALTESE BODKIN theatre review

Theatre Jacksonville opened its 5th show of the season, the last production before their summer musical Nunsence. TJ season has certainly been diverse this year with new plays with different styles.
If you thought their last show, Our Leading Lady, a comedy about the day Lincoln was shot, was different, wait till you see the current production, The Maltese Bodkin. A bit of history is in order to explain the title and the plot of this play.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the l941 film, “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade, who spent the entire movie searching for a priceless statuette. If you are a Shakespeare fan, you recall Hamlet, and his famous lines describing how one could end all their troubles with a “bare bodkin”, or committing suicide with a stiletto type knife.
In this play we have a knife called a Maltese Bodkin (a knife from Malta), that is used in the murder of a business partner of a Sam Spade type character named Birnham Wood.
The play is set in l605 in London England, but our leading character Wood wears an l940s suit and two toned black and white shoes, and likewise his perky and pretty secretary Charlotte, wears a dress from that time. The knife in question is in Wood’s care as he tries to catch the killer, but a number of interesting characters want possession of the knife since it supposedly has special, even magical qualities that go to the country or persons having possession of it. Got that?
Now it just so happens that all those people who want to find the bodkin happen to be characters from Shakespeare’s plays and all happen to suddenly become suspects in the murder of the partner. I guess we could call this play a farce.
Most of the scenes take place in Wood’s l940’s looking office, with an English pub being the second most popular meeting place. Two short scenes take place in a grave yard and in a cellar. Kelly Wagoner’s set design is very authentic and efficient since there are fourteen scene changes that go quickly with some moody l940 instrumental music to tide you over the blackout periods. Jeff Wagoner’s creative lighting help enhance the moods of several scenes.
Kenny Logsdon plays Wood, the Sam Spade character and he does a good impersonation of the talk and style of that once popular detective. The role is terribly demanding since Logsdon is the stage from the opening curtain to the very end, with possibly one or two minutes off stage and that folks is a lot of talking and walking in two hours.
If I were going to start a theatre company, my first hire would be Tracy Olin. Not only can she sing and dance (She was the lead in Cabaret), but is darn good dramatic and comedic actress as she proves playing the role of Viola Da Messaline, a mysterious client of Detective Wood. In addition Ms. Olin designed and made all the colorful and authentic costumes all the Shakespeare folks, and there is a carload of them. In the final scene of the play she comes out in a gown that is a masterpiece, you have to see it to appreciate it.
Amanda Masnyk is making her Jacksonville theatre debut as Charlotte. She brings an impressive resume with lots of experience in acting, directing and choreographing. Welcome, you are going to be a valuable asset to the local theatre community in this area.
If Tom Trauger were to receive $5.00 for each costume change in this play, he could probably retire. He goes back and forth between five characters, Iago, Ratcliffe, Donalbain, Guilderstern and Sebastain and makes all of them different with vocal variety and different accents.
Chris Morrissey is also making his North Florida debut and is a busy boy, playing
Antoino, Mercutio, Puck, Richard and Rosencrantz. His Puck was hilarious and was one of the audience’s favorites. Chris honed his acting talents in the past by being an acrobat in the FSU Flying High Circus and making a living for several years as a beach volleyball player. You guessed it; he is very tall and also very funny.
Marcia Morgan-Cook plays probably the most normal person in this play, Mistress Quickly, the bartender at the English Pub. Marcia is an accomplished award winning actress and I just loved her delightful oh so perfect English accent and she gets her share of the laughs as well.
If you are a young actor wanting to learn the business of acting, you cannot do better than to observe Roger Lowe in action. He modestly does not list his long long accomplishments and awards as an actor in the program biography. I have always admired the way Lowe approaches every role with gusto and energy. He plays a delightful Falstaff, Catesby, Sgt. Fang and a very funny Prospero. I guarantee you will hear every one of his lines loud and clear whether you are sitting the back row or even standing in the lobby.
Our detective solves the crime, with somewhat of a surprise ending. If you are a fan of Shakespeare you are going to love this show not so much for the dialogue since only a few of the Bard’s phrases are used but because of the use of characters you know from Shakespeare’s plays.
My only suggestion is for the entire cast (except Lowe) to kick up the volume. I overheard several comments at the intermission about not being able to hear some of the dialogue in various scenes. This plays like a Film Noir, but unfortunately TJ does not mike their actors like they do in the movies.
This is play is Director David Patton’s swan song as a director and actor locally, for a while anyway. He entering law school in Minnesota in the fall, but we look forward to his coming back to the River City and hanging up his shingle as an attorney. This was a difficult play to direct and Mr. Patton selected a stellar cast to find the elusive Maltese Bodkin.
The play continues until May 8th at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse at 2032 San Marco. Call 396-4425 for reservations.