Maria Marten, or, Murder in the Red Barn was written by that most prolific of authors, Anonymous. (Love your work).

In the hands of the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, it becomes a rowdy lark full of rodomontade and dastardly deeds. Directed by Charlotte Northeast with gusto and goofiness, this is both a 19th-century melodrama and a burlesque of a 19th-century melodrama. As Northeast confesses in her program notes, PAC “understands this sense of the ridiculous on an almost genetic level … [we] live for the next joke.”

Maria Marten, or, Murder in the Red Barn has all the requisite roles: the mustachioed villain and the requisite country bumpkin — Dan Hodge and Damon Bonetti switch these roles on alternate nights. I saw Bonetti as the unscrupulous William Corder and Hodge as Tim Bobbin. Both these guys are obviously having a very good time while being very good at what they do.

The company of "Maria Marten" most definitely enjoys itself.
The company of "Maria Marten" most definitely enjoys itself.

There is Maria, the requisite dishonored damsel who tragically dies for love (the lovely and very impressive Victoria Aaliyah Goins). And there is Anne, the requisite silly sidekick (the adorable and very impressive Sarah Knittel).

Rounding out the cast are Brian McCann (who can do butlers like nobody's business), Devon Sinclair, Trina Tjersland, and Monroe Barrick (who has the unfortunate habit of dropping his voice at the end of a sentence), who plays two fathers — one vengeful, one forgiving.

All the old-timey stage shtick is here: running gags, freeze motion, slapstick, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, lots of shouting, and a nifty chase scene. The second act is genuinely moving, as the plot turns serious (well, semi-serious), with several great dream sequences. This is surprising after the very vaudevillian first act, when I had the nagging sensation that the funny bits should be funnier than they were.

Andrew Clotworthy plays the characters on and off stage at the piano, and Bridget Brennan has designed the fairly hilarious costumes.  There are some terrifically fake backdrops designed and painted by Brian McCann (a backup career if this butler job doesn't work out).

Hark and heigh-ho. Andrew, play this critic off.


Maria Marte, or, Murder In The Red Barn

    • Through June 24 at the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective at Louis Bluver Theater in The Drake, 302 S. Hicks St.

    • Tickets: $15 - $25.