Editorial: Mystery at the manor

What Rappahannock needs is a good murder mystery. Not the real thing, of course (in which someone would have to be actually killed), but a fictional whodunit.

It’s no accident, according to a Freudian psychiatrist I once knew, that the murder mystery genre was perfected in England, as evidenced by all those BBC series rebroadcast in this country (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis) — not to mention the incomparable Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. For the English — notoriously understated, droll and calm under pressure — needed murder mysteries to sublimate and exorcise the dark passions that lurked beneath their highly mannered society.

So, too, is it perhaps no accident that the first English settlers in what would become Rappahannock County sought to emulate the landed gentry’s lifestyle they had left behind — or for the wannabees, envied — on the other side of the Atlantic. This meant an agrarian economy, foxhunting and manor houses.

We could very well have a lavish country residence here called Muldroon Manor; and last weekend we did — in the form of Tom Stoppard’s one-act murder mystery “The Real Inspector Hound.” Set in Lady Muldroon’s drawing room, the play was given a memorable performance at the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and Community (RAAC) Theatre in Washington. Rappahannock County High School English and drama teacher Russell Paulette provided brilliant direction, as his current and former students played their assigned roles professionally and precociously.

The play opens with an unidentified body lying in the middle of the stage. As with Agatha Christie’s typical “closed” settings, no one can enter or leave the stage, so the characters know that the murderer must be one of them. The playwright Stoppard adds two theater critics to the cast in what quickly becomes a parody of a murder mystery, and a play within a play.

The audience was dazzled, especially so given that this was not Broadway but purely a locally grown, hometown production. And given all the passionate disagreements lately among local residents about the future of the county seat (and by extension, the self-definition of the county itself), they no doubt found the murder mystery farce to be cathartic as well.

Walter Nicklin