2014-11-13 / Front Page

Museum Murder, Mayhem and Masterpieces

Marley Bridges Success is No Mystery
By James Merolla


Jessica Bradley, Louis Seymour and Patrick Grimes (left to right) enjoy the tastes of success during their sweet cook-off murder mystery which runs through December at the Newport Art Museum. Jessica Bradley, Louis Seymour and Patrick Grimes (left to right) enjoy the tastes of success during their sweet cook-off murder mystery which runs through December at the Newport Art Museum. There is something afoot in the Newport Art Museum through December; and it’s a recipe for a truly engaging evening’s entertainment.

The Marley Bridges Theatre Company opened “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” the latest in the Murder at the Museum series on Saturday, Nov. 8, and a packed crowd had the delicious fun of playing interactive detectives at a cook-off.

Under the creative direction of Patrick Grimes and Jessica Bradley, guests get to spend a “night at the museum,” enjoying an atmosphere to engage in a whodunnit. Clues abound, and at intermission the audience goes from room to room, floor to floor, to find them.

According to Artistic Director Grimes, the Marley Bridges Theatre Company began as the Beechwood Theatre Company in 1981 when the Astors’ Beechwood mansion opened to the public with living history tours, summer stock theatrical productions, and murder mysteries.

Grimes started at Beechwood as an intern in 1996 and quickly showed an adept ability to write, act, and think on his feet. With the sale of Beechwood in 2010, Bradley and Grimes began creating and performing mysteries with the company at other venues until the Newport Art Museum, looking to expand its programming, approached them to perform there.

“Marley Bridges” is an anagram of their two last names, “Bradley” and “Grimes.” “It works well because we are based on an island, plus we do a lot of high Victorian era programming including a ‘Dickens Christmas Feast,’ which is a unique interactive retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ incorporating notable Newport residents of the 1890s,” said Grimes.


At intermission, going from room to room, floor to floor, the audience reviews clues to solve the whodunnit. At intermission, going from room to room, floor to floor, the audience reviews clues to solve the whodunnit. In addition to the murder mysteries, the company performs a concert series which includes one-act operas by P.D.Q. Bach and Menotti, and various selections from American composers. “We also do outdoor summer theater in a series we call ‘One-Act Wednesdays' and we have three day-long murder mystery weekends with the Architect’s Inn,’ ” added Grimes.

Grimes and Bradley are the writing team, tailoring established themes to suit the purpose of the evening. The company’s troupe of actors will tell you that Grimes “writes and writes and writes” in his own spirited Christmas frenzy.

To see Grimes perform is a revelation. As the sputtering, manic French chef at the heart of “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” Grimes seems to be playing chess, while other performers are playing checkers. He shouts, hisses, spews; he is incredulous, animated, hilarious and sincere. This is a man who clearly loves his avocation.

And why not? He works in one of the finer art spaces in all of Rhode Island. His guests not only see a show but get to examine some of the more notable paintings, sculptures and mixed media works in the region.

The art extends beyond the walls, mostly in the superb vintage clothing worn by the performers, stitched by Louis Seymour.

“The Victorian costumes are actually period gowns. They are not standard theatrical costumes, because they need to be better than that,” said Grimes. “Audience members are, at times, literally in our laps. To that end, Louis has collected a huge number of period patterns from turn-of-the-century sources.

“Harper’s Magazine used to publish dress patterns. Louis buys these and custom tailors each one to the actress who will be wearing it,” he added. “The women are in actual corsets that are made of steel stays, not bone. The steel gives the right shape to the lady but offers more flexibility in movement than bone (of paramount importance to performing musically).”

The holiday-themed murder mystery is completely new. Set in the open lecture hall with food-andcooking based artwork surrounding the players and audience on three sides, it is set in 1891.

The tale pits the Astors against the Vanderbilts, who are jockeying in an effort to be the new heads of society.

The audience acts as judges, in a cooking competition among three notable chefs who work for Newport’s elite (with one actually tasting the goods). The desserts prepared by the chefs are judged on taste, presentation and creativity. “It’s just like any of the cooking competitions you find on the Food Network or the Cooking Channel, but things go a little awry and someone ends up dead!” laughed Grimes.

“Clue-making comes from the backstories of our characters and why they would want to murder someone, specifically the person who was done away with on the given night. Once we have motives, we think of fun ways for that information to come out,” he added.

“Newspaper articles about previous transgressions, an unsigned letter, a will, a premarital agreement, a threatening note, blackmail - these combine with other physical clues like the murder weapon to paint a picture of what really happened when the person was killed,” said Grimes.

The secret is the variation in each performance. Some nights the troupe might make audience members suspects without their prior knowledge; or they might make an audience member actually complicit in, if not outright guilty of, the murder; they might add an element beyond the murder for the audience to investigate, like missing jewels or a scavenger hunt.

Go figure. I highly recommend it.

TO GO

Murder at the Museum
WHERE: Newport Art Museum
WHEN: Most Saturdays
thru Dec., times vary
MORE INFO: 401-324-9436,
or www.newportmurdermystery.com

Return to top