Pioneering a look that might be dubbed Drag Dowdy, Ed Jones as spinster Jane Marbled sticks to her knitting as her exuberant niece (played by Caitlin Jackson) clues us in to her aunt’s proclivity to solve murders that her very presence seems to inspire. Their upper crust British repartee fills their train coach, reminding of fine china teacups settling into their saucers during high tea.
In this dialogue, their Masterpiece Theater flavored voices don’t linger long on any particular line. Niece Vivian is the straight man – girl—who OH MY’s her aunt’s account of how the monkey made great stew but the orangutan fare was superior. “No dear, we didn’t eat the monkey, he was just a great chef.” (to paraphrase) her aunt retorts.
We’re not five minutes into this scene when the first murder famed Jane Marbled somehow always occasions occurs. A waiter drops dead with ballet flair at their feet. This does not seem to agitate Miss Marbled, who demurely inquires of the porter who soon appears if he could perhaps cover the corpse?
OH MY--the lack of decorum in keeping a dead man so uncovered!
DO conflate this murder magnet with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, playwright David Cerda’s pen seems to say, but forget about that heteronormative lens of the famed mystery writer’s imagination. A Fine Feathered Murder: A Miss Marbled Mystery is classic Cerda and Hell in a Handbag skewer of pop culture. This one though—starting with the monkey stew line and then letting loose more murder-so-fowl puns one could ever think to conjure, seems to have a wild thread of vegan hot flashes running through it – as the WHODUNIT murder of a chicken agribusiness magnate whom everyone hates unfolds.
Hell in A Handbag Productions Fills Our Burning Desire to Escape
Though Shane Roberie as Lord Fowler does get to deliver a string of poultry inspired puns, and Jabberwocky Marionettes brings alive Frankenfood nightmares, you’d be very mistaken if you think A Fine Feathered Murder has a message that is going to shake your tree. Rather, this rooster puppet is a gateway to lines like “.. I do like my cock stroked”. To call it sexual innuendo is also off—as innuendo implies something subtle. Think instead of an ever fornicating or masturbating elephant in the room, figuratively speaking. You too might love it when Cerda breaks the fourth wall with an aside that he keeps these type zingers in the script because we (the audience) always seem to love it.
And we do—or at least this writer does—feel the charm of forgetting about everything else that consumes our days. Inflation, January 6, Supreme Court, gun violence and more—gone in a blink! You too might feel the script sag in the middle like a way-too-soft mattress, but happily forgeddaboutit as the talented performers allow us to escape the worries of the day.
What a time for these escapes to camp on Chicago stages--- from Hurricane Diane, to It Came From Outer Space and now also this puppet infused Agatha Christie parody! Unlike these other Chicago productions, Hell in a Handbag doesn’t go to any lengths to put on airs beyond drag costume perfection. Like the set, a hodgepodge of doors and chairs that seem to have been cobbled together for rehearsals and never fully dressed, this escape-into-camp comes with no frills, and is just naked silly.
If you can’t brook lots of dick and bush jokes stay away. If you like lite-as-it-gets theater that you can watch with a beer buzz, and especially if you are an Agatha Christie fan, this is YOUR show.
**Special Note—the ensemble seems more than comfortable with the non-stop shtick of this script, giving us lovable caricatures in every line. In the performance reviewed by this writer, understudy Robert Williams in drag as Treasure Abundance--- not to be confused with their sister Pleasure Abundance--- seemed born to the role. Brava/Bravo!
Tyler Anthony Smith
Danne W. Taylor
By David Cerda
Directed by Cheryl Snodgrass
Bill Morey and Beth Laske-Miller (costume design)
Keith Ryan (wig design)
Sydney Genco (make-up design)
Jabberwocky Marionettes (puppetry)
Sammi Grant (dialect coach)
Drew Donnelly (stage manager)
Thru July 31, 2022
Sundays - 3pm
Thursdays - 7:30pm
Fridays - 7:30pm
Saturdays - 7:30pm
The Chopin Theatre
1543 W Division St
Chicago IL 60642
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.