“The Alden presents Drive-Thru Drama, a new model of theater…in a COVID-19 world. Drive-Thru Drama is a social-distance theater format that brings people together for live theater from the comfort of their own cars. Actors…perform one cohesive story through scenes placed across the MCC parking lot. Audience members will simply roll down their windows and drive the route from actor to actor.”
Last weekend, and for the next two weekends, came the debut of a gentle high school mystery, “From the Ash Baxter Files: The Search for the Stolen Spyglass.” Written and directed Andrew Scott Zimmer, it is an escape to kinder universe where small problems are solved through intrepidness and trust, and are really just a test of mettle. It was fun and very well done, with a young cast that threw themselves whole-heartedly into the action.
This was a well-thought out production and it was fun.
It is also very family-friendly. Compared to this, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, even Trixie Belden, would look like a walk on the wild side. While the “suspects” may be telling little lies in the first go-round of the “interrogations,” they are mostly little fibs to spare someone’s feelings or to hide a little foible. There is absolutely nothing mean-spirited about any of it.
The action starts when Ash Baxter, a member of a detectives club at her school (and an aspirant to the position of Lead Pinkerton within said club) is detailed by one of her teachers, Mr. Dimwizzle, to find his missing spyglass. He last saw it at 2:55 p.m. and when he returned to his classroom after delivering a scathing oratory to an arch-rival, it’s gone. Ash, the ultimate bright-eyed, energetic, and moral heroine of small tragedies, sets out to question the list of suspects given to her by Mr. Dimwizzle.
That’s where we, the audience, in our cars, comes in. We are anointed as junior detectives to accompany Ash on her rounds to study her methods and to help her detect the little falsehood each suspect tells. So Ash, walking briskly to each station where the next suspect is ( Lily Zavrel as Robin”Shifty” Magee, Talia-Rose Diorio as Casey Pinerider, Luke Rahman as Jax Bishop, Gunnar Peacock as Parker “Louie” Barker, Daevon Watson as Bailey “Sudsy” Bucket, and Jade Brooks-Bartlett as Miss Sweetlesson). Sudsy and Sweetlesson are the school janitor and favorite literature teacher, respectively. By the end of the rounds, yes, the perpetrator is discovered. And of course, it’s a very upbeat ending.
For my drive-through, I had Graham Cole as Mr. Dimwizzle. He did a stellar job as a forgetful intellectual who is easily distracted, and very kind. He also has a wonderful carrying voice and could give lessons on enunciating clearly and loudly through a mask.
“My” Ash Barker was Melanie Becker, who was the epitome of spunkiness, but without being tiresome. That’s a fine line and she stayed on the side where you’re rooting for her to unmask the spyglass thief and delighting in her sheer zest for detection.
Because each car gets its own Ash Barker, the role is also played by Jack Abba, Nikki Amico, Rebecca Blacksten, Kira Burri, Benjamin Cudmore, Zander Kuebler, Elizabeth Ludlam, Lenny Mendez, and Keya Umesh. Mr. Dimwizzle is play as well by Hank Harris and Andrew Scott Zimmer.
This is, I believe, the second “drive-thru” live play that Alden has produced. They have the staging down pat and the directions are clear and not onerous at all. Everything is clearly marked and well-organized and it was a seamless experience. There are four levels (easy, intermediate, hard, and non-interactive) and the cast is good at collaborating with their “junior detectives” to solve the case.
Production staff for the show includes producer, Danielle Van Hook; associate producer, Sarah Schallern Treff; stage manager, Elizabeth Katz; technical director, Jennifer Garrett; assistant TD, Justin King; technician, Deion Roulhac; box office and prop mistress, Evelyn Hill; house manager, Jeff Virchow; assistant house manager, Jared Mercier; Dakota Riddle HS logo design, Luke Rahman; and graphic designer, David Craig.
The entry ticket is your car’s license plate and they are timed. Everyone, including cast and crew, is masked and practice social distancing, and the set-up ensured it wasn’t even noticeable.
This was a well-thought out production and it was fun. Everyone took it seriously and played their parts very well. Grab the kids and go—it’s a diverting and creative way to spend some time during this pandemic.
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes.
“From the Ash Baxter Files: The Search for the Stolen Spyglass” runs from September 18-20 and 25-27, 2020 at Alden Theatre in the parking lot of the McLean Community Center, McLean, VA. For more information, check out their Facebook page or click here.