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Taproot Theatre presents “Gaudy Night” mystery Sept. 21-Oct. 20

Taproot Theatre’s upcoming mainstage production is Dorothy L. Sayers’ classic mystery “Gaudy Night.”

Jeff Barryman and Alyson Scadron Branner. Photo by Erik Stuhaug, Taproot Theatre.

Harriet Vane’s Oxford reunion is terrorized by murderous threats from the “Poison Pen,” a vicious vandal determined to destroy our heroine and everything she holds dear. Is her sleuthing enough to apprehend the villain? And where is Lord Peter when she really needs him?

Dorothy L. Sayers published her first novel in 1923, introducing Lord Peter Wimsey, who would become the hero of many short stories and fourteen volumes of novels, including Gaudy Night. Her work as a mystery novelist won her the role of president of the Detection Club, whose membership included the likes of G.K. Chesterton and Agatha Christie. Dorothy L. Sayers set out as a mystery author, “with the avowed intention of producing something ‘less like a conventional detective story and more like a novel.’” This manifested itself in her work when she occasionally, “indulged in a little ‘good writing’ here and there” (excerpts from an essay Sayers published about Gaudy Night in 1937).

Gaudy Night’s setting, Shrewsbury College, was inspired by Dorothy L. Sayers’ alma mater, Somerville College, a women’s college in Oxford. This story takes place when there was a widespread belief that women were incapable of high academic achievement, but this idea was being refuted by brilliant women rising to the occasion with numerous diverse accomplishments. This initiated the foundation for a shift in that viewpoint. In the 1930’s we have Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo; Billie Holiday, who made her first recording in 1933; Peggy Guggenheim, the art collector, opened her Guggenheim-Jeune gallery in London to exhibit avant-garde art; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt held her own press conference, allowing only women reporters to attend. In Gaudy Night, the ladies of Shrewsbury College are anxious to protect the academic respect they have earned.

“Gaudy Night” runs Sept. 21 – Oct. 20, with previews on Sept. 19-20. Taproot Theatre is at 204 N. 85th St.