A Review of Seafoam Slam Festival: A Murder Mystery

27 September 2021
By Etienne Richart, edited by Madeline Goldberg and Octavia Washington
This is a picture of the poster for the show.

This is a repost of an ETB show, Seafoam Slam Festival: A Murder Mystery, which debuted in Spring 2021, written by Etienne Richart.

 Seafoam Slam Festival: A Murder Mystery, as presented by Carleton’s Experimental Theatre Board, was a blast. The play, written by Ben More and directed by Elaine Boyle, with planning done by Christian Schultz, engaged its audience to help solve the murder of Brett Mayfield, Seafoam Slam Festival’s CEO. The investigation was set the day after all the guests arrived on the island of the music festival. The day before, guests had rioted after discovering that the festival was a scam. Detective Riley Chambers (Collin Preves) arrived at the scene and identified five suspects: Spencer Edwards the influencer (Tosh Le), Alex Holland the musician (Ingrid Anderson), Stanley Valentine the businessman (Brandon Moore), Nat Baxter the bodyguard (Stephanie Delgado) and Captain Cleanshaven (pronounced Clen-cha-ven) the pirate (Adrian Boskovic). Detective Chambers proceeded to enlist the audience’s help to solve the mystery, and together they watched the suspects, looking for clues before they voted on whodunit.

In light of the ongoing pandemic the play was performed over Zoom, a medium which the production used creatively and to great effect. Different characters had costumes well-matched to their personalities and occupations, and although the technology made it hard to fully appreciate the costume design, Emma Burke’s creations helped create a compelling narrative. Each actor also had their own connection to the “stage” (the Zoom rooms that hosted the performance), allowing them to enter and exit by turning their camera on or off. Set design took on a new meaning here, as actors would change their Zoom background for each location in the play. And by splitting up into breakout rooms, actors could perform in two different locations at the same time, offering the audience the chance to decide which suspects to follow during the investigation. This mechanism made my experience feel more immersive and my choices important as I only got to see one of the two events happening simultaneously. I was invested in Captain Cleanshaven, the comedic 21st century pirate, and so I followed him each time. I got to laugh as Stanley Valentine, the investor behind the Seafoam Slam Festival, and Captain Cleanshaven bonded over the shared pirate characteristics of their two professions.

As inventive as the staging was, an audience member could only be in one breakout room at a time, leaving the stories of many suspects inevitably to go unseen. When suspicion fell on Nat Baxter, for example, the victim’s bodyguard, and she revealed that they had been lovers, I found that I had not spent enough time with her character to empathize with her supposedly deep loss. The issue cropped up again at the reveal of the show, when we found out that Alex Holland committed the murder by accident during an argument over being mismanaged and scammed by Brett Mayfield. After her confession, Spencer Edwards was at a loss due to the friendship he thought he had developed with Alex over the course of the investigation. Once again, having not seen this relationship develop, the character came off as whinny and the drama uninteresting.

Only being present for parts of the story also made it hard, if not impossible, for all the audience members to have been exposed to all the evidence in the same way. The performance did attempt to address the information disparity issue: after the breakout sessions, the actors brought up the evidence they discovered and the audience posed questions to the suspects. As this happened the detective’s assistant updated the evidence log (a shared Google Doc that the audience could access) with broad advances in the case. When it came time to vote on a suspect about half of the audience voted with me to correctly identify the murderer, but the remaining viewers split their votes between the other suspects, because they had not heard a crucial comment in one of the earlier breakout room sessions. Although we nabbed the right person, part of the audience was left out, because without a close reading of the evidence log, they had no way of making a fully informed decision.

My favorite aspect of the experience was the comedy that grew out of Captain Cleanshaven’s interactions with Stanley Valentine. Well-crafted lines quickly developed the relationship between the two characters, and the many pirate jokes and references made throughout the play were well executed by both actors. I especially enjoyed the unexpected finale where Stanley Valentine and Captain Cleanshaven escape from arrest, for white collar crimes and piracy respectively, aboard the J.S. (Jet Ski) Cleanshaven.

I was very impressed by the production’s creative use of Zoom to submerge its audience in this murder mystery. I enjoyed the deployment of breakout rooms, especially the great character and relationship building I got to experience in those spaces, which more than made up for the limitations they presented. Even if the emotional drama the play tried to create did not resonate with me, this was a great debut by an acting troupe largely made up of members from the class of 2024, and I look forward to what they put on next.

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