Once again, the folks at Boxcar prove they are “the little (theater) engine that could” with their insane, inventive, irresistible “Clue.”
Artistic Directors Peter Matthews and Nick O. Olivero have adapted the screenplay of the foppish 1985 cult film — itself inspired by the perennial board game — and crafted a unique and loving sendup of a sendup.
The screen version is camp. The stage version is self-aware camp in the best possible way, commenting on both the flaws of the film and the experience of playing the game. One character rolls the dice as the others move around like playing pieces. Another comments on a plot inconsistency only to have his castmates shout, “Sloppy editing!”
You know you’re in for something different when, to get to your seats in the tiny black box performance space, you must climb a flight of stairs and be seated peering six feet down to a life-size reproduction of the game’s playing board, replete with every Lounge, Conservatory and other familiar room.
It’s a feat of physical engineering, and the scenic elements by Olivero and Roberto Gimenez are only slightly shortchanged by not embracing a giddier, more stylized approach.
The colorful cast is uniformly delightful.
Taking a youthful step back from Tim Curry, Brian Martin is a droll and persnickety Wadsworth, guiding the game in butler pose and furiously spouting reams of dialogue in the closing “re-enactment” scenes — of which all three were performed on opening night.
Sarah Savage channels her best Lesley Ann Warren as the slanky slattern Miss Scarlet, and Justin Liszanckie is a preternaturally pervy Professor Plum, who can’t keep his hands off anything, including the dead cook’s derriere.
Linnea George can-can do as the sort-of French maid Yvette, Olivero makes for an appropriately blustery Col.
Mustard, Matthews is the owl-eyed, gay (or not?) Mr. Green, and Adam Simpson is a wonderfully snarky Mr. Boddy and a few other characters throughout.
Stephanie Desnoyers serves double duty and the deadpan on-stage Hand and as the offstage designer of the brilliant, spot-on costumes.
Special praise must go to J. Conrad Frank (often known around town as Katya Smirnoff-Skyy) and Michelle Ianiro, who had to fill the iconic pumps of Eileen Brennan and Madeline Kahn.
Both honor their screen predecessors and still make the roles unique. Frank plays an indistinctly placed accent and free-wheeling hysteria for a vigorous Mrs. Peacock, while Ianiro leavens Mrs. White’s bitchery with just the right dose of “O no you di’n’t!” ’tude.
The show, like the film, has a few stiff moments in the plot exposition. Some cinematic elements don’t translate and others, like the crashing chandelier, are turned amusingly on their ear.
Sightlines are such that everyone misses a bit here and there, and the show — extended through Feb. 19 — comes with a wise prerequisite. If you haven’t done so recently, you simply must watch the movie in advance. Your experience will be infinitely enhanced.
Where: Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes Feb. 19
Tickets: $25 to $30
Contact: (415) 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org