Murder mystery ‘The Rimers of Eldritch’ was hauntingly familiar in feeling

Set in the 1960s, playwright Langford Wilson explores the failure of a small Missouri town.

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Lanford Wilson’s dark drama “The Rimers of Eldritch” documented the demise of a small town as a ruinous murder trial takes place.

Directed by MU theatre professor David Crespy, the show follows a town with a population of around 70 located near the Lake of the Ozarks. After the town drunk is killed, a wild court case unravels the lives of everyone in Eldritch. Eldritch is a fictitious Missouri town, but the word actually means sinister or odd.

Throughout most of “The Rimers of Eldritch,” the entire cast was onstage. The nature of the small town came to life in the daily interactions of its citizens. For instance, two women gossiped on their porch about a local waitress with a much younger boyfriend. School girls sat on a bench and talked about seeing boys at drive-in movie theaters. An old woman and her daughter argued behind closed doors.

The dark drama was intensified by the haunting feeling of familiarity in the show. Characters in high school talked about going to St. Louis or Chicago after graduation. An older man recounted his trip to the Ozarks. Knowing the mentioned places allowed viewers to put themselves in Eldritch as if they’d been there before.

Tension built in the day-to-day conversations as the show went on, and it became clear that something scandalous had taken place in the quiet town. The poetic nature of the script paired with its brief scenes gave the show a rhythmic feel that supported the growing tension and sense of mystery.

A court case unfolded between conversations and tore the town apart. A local woman was put on trial for shooting and killing the town drunk because it seemed like he was trying to assault a young girl. But something didn’t feel right about such an obvious case in a town where everyone is affected by the trial. In Eldritch, everyone knows everyone, or so they like to think. With every character entangled in the case, it was hard to know the truth until the last few minutes of the play. It gave the chilling feeling that there’s no such thing as a truly private life.

What made the show really stand out was the acting. The show is an ensemble production, meaning that it follows the lives of many characters as opposed to one or a few main characters. Each character was distinct and developed through vocal tones, costumes and movement. There was not a single character that wasn’t memorable in some way. That’s an impressive acting feat, too, considering there were more than 20 actors in the show.

It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite character from so many great actors. There were, of course, stand-out performances. Senior Leah Huskey stole every scene she was in as the bubbly teen nightmare Patsy Johnson. As the loving, yet tragic, Eva Jackson, senior Itohan Amayo broke hearts. Graduate student Hayley Rushing and senior Ashley Watson provided a bit of comic relief as local gossips Martha Truit and Wilma Atkins.

“The Rimers of Eldritch” was a creepy and mysterious show that was made perfect by its acting and pace. It was a harrowing look at the intricate daily life of a small town where nothing is secret. It was a stellar performance all around.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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