When a Welsh family of four vanishes into thin air from their cozy country manse, they leave no clue save a slip of paper with the handwritten word “widdershins” on it, and we find two detectives hot on the trail to solve the mystery.
In a complex and fascinatingly convoluted Victorian plot replete with Druids, faerie legends, French impressionists and the occult, “Widdershins,” currently at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, connects these seemingly disparate elements with cohesive aplomb.
Underneath the quaint faade of this turn of the century upper crust family there are darker sides to each member that Inspector Ruffing and his tippling cohort, McGonigle, aim to uncover. Between pours of the family’s finest scotch, McGonigle attempts to wrest the truth from a series of interviews with the family’s only remaining daughter, Annie, their lame servant girl, Jenny, and Betty, the village sorceress.
Mr. English, as family patriarch, is a man in full who fancies himself a painter, writer and intellectual. Yet he is a dilettante holding his family firmly in his thrall. In a self-absorbed metaphysical quest ‘ “To find the truth one must travel deeper and deeper into the abyss” ‘ he dabbles dangerously in superstitions and Pagan legends. With the aid of a daft local soothsayer with a penchant for young boys, English is lured into the places where the “lost ones” dwell, as she goads him on to visit the spirits that have haunted him in his hallucinations.
“The sacred and the damned are the same,” English declares in a delusional attempt to define God. With such a cavalier philosophy it should come as no surprise that he absolves himself of any responsibility towards his family, and we soon discover that everyone including his wife and children, Constance, Felicity, and their adopted daughter, Ann, has dark secrets and their own private demons.
In this carefully crafted whodunit, playwright Don Nigro reaches beyond a simple missing persons crime scene to explore intricate themes of religion, morality and sexuality in a mystery with cosmic mysteries. “God swims in a mysterious soup,” English divines.
To express that characters’ reappearances are visits from another realm as they waft in and out of the misty scenes in a time continuum, lighting and special effects designers Ken and Patti Crowley cleverly illuminate their visages.
The acting is smooth as a bolt of silk. Mike Baker Jr. plays the bereaved McGonigle and J. Andrew Simmons is Ruffing, the lead detective. Elizabeth A. Keith is the aggrieved Mrs. English, Kat Sanchez plays Ann and Lars Klores tackles the character of Mr. English. Gayle Nichols-Grimes plays the witch Betty in hoary and hilarious fashion (did I neglect to mention there was comedy here too?), while Elise Kolle and Emily Woods as the younger children exceed our expectations as the playful and mischievous foils whose innocence creates chaos.
Flawlessly directed by C. Evans Kirk, this production is highly recommended.
“Widdershins runs through March 29 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. For tickets and information call 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.