THEATER REVIEW : If Butler Didn't Do It, Mystery Show Still Has Suspects Galore : 'But Why Bump Off Barnaby?' offers a maze of possibilities for aficionados.


Aggravated parents shouldn't get excited over the Moorpark Melodrama's current "But Why Bump Off Barnaby?" No purple dinosaur gets offed in this comic murder mystery; you'd be thinking of Barney. In fact, the Melodrama's first non-musical production in eight years is great fun.

We're deep in Agatha Christie country here: The long-absent member of an aristocratic English family, Barnaby Folcey returns home at the request of patriarch Orion Leduc. Things aren't all as they appear to be at the family manse, and before long, prodigal Barnaby has become the late Barnaby. Dying, he scrawls a message that (as it turns out) could implicate virtually anybody in the house. The other problem is that, while Barnaby had a motive for killing most of the others, none of the others had any perceptible motive to kill Barnaby.

In addition to Barnaby (Robert Plunkett) and Leduc (Nels Jorgensen), the characters--virtually all of them suspects--include police reporter and nominal hero Jeff Barnett (Scott Humphries), his addled fiancee Dora Dunstock (Ami Shupe), hearing-impaired Lady Barbara (Gayle Hendrix-Harris), vain and flirtatious movie star Cleo Barton (Deborah Webster), Leduc's fortune-hunting "friend" Rosalind Barstow (Buffy Jo Fitch), nanny Miss Barnsdale (Gale Grove), Medkins the butler (JC Bishop) and Magnolia the maid (Ginger Marin).

There is a real mystery among the shenanigans, one that can be solved from clues revealed during the play (beyond that, we shall offer no further information). But much of the entertainment value comes from watching what director Steve Robertson and his cast do with Rick Abbot's well-wrought, consistently amusing script--watch--for instance, Magnolia struggle with the guests' heavy luggage, a gag that's all but thrown away behind the main action.

There are no songs in "Barnaby," but musical director Tim King supplies piano and synthesizer accompaniment throughout, and the cast gathers, along with Kevin McDonald and Amy Sullivan, for a post-Barnaby "salute to the good old days of vaudeville," an approximately half-hour song and dance revue choreographed by Erin Appling.


* WHAT: "But Why Bump Off Barnaby?"

* WHEN: Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sept. 14.

* WHERE: Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company Theater, 45 E. High St., Moorpark.

* HOW MUCH: Thursday, all seats $8; Friday, all seats $10; and Saturday evening, all seats $12; Saturday and Sunday matinees, $12 adults; $9.50 seniors and children. Group rates are available for some performances. Visa and MasterCard accepted.

* FYI: For reservations or further information, call 529-1212.

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