By Michael Dresdner
|L to R, Nicole Locket, Gabriel McClellend, Jenifer Rifenbery|
A few minutes in, rumbling sound effects and a piercing scream let you know right off the bat that this will be a mystery thriller. Night Watch, a Lucille Fletcher play with decided Hitchcock overtones, has shown up at Tacoma Little Theatre just in time for Halloween.
The scream comes from wealthy heiress Elaine (Nicole Locket), who’s seen a bloody dead body in a chair through a briefly raised shade on the window of a vacant building across the way. No one else in the house sees anything; not her husband John (Gabriel McClellend), her visiting best friend Blanche (Jenifer Rifenbery), or the housekeeper Helga (Ziggy Devlan).
To complicate matters, Elaine is an emotionally fragile insomniac whose first husband, whom she says the aforementioned dead body resembled, died in a car wreck along with his illicit paramour. As is usually the case in this story genre, the police find no evidence of anything having happened, so by the time she sees a second body there, one resembling the blonde paramour, everyone, audience included, is starting to doubt her sanity.
As odd evidence mounts, like a blonde wig and a local who also looks like the dead man, we’re left wondering if she’s crazy, or is being played by her assumed friend and husband. Before long, her husband, aided by a psychiatrist who makes house calls, has convinced her to go to a mental hospital in Europe.
Through a sizeable chunk of both acts, the play lurches clumsily along like a sloppy jalopy with various secondary characters wandering through. Some will be key to the plot, but others seem merely to distract or add comic relief. Be patient, though, for ultimately the conclusion arrives with a very surprising twist that, while some might find a bit unsettling, I found to be quite satisfying.
Whether by accident, design, or direction, Locket and McClellend, both very skilled actors who’ve done superb and finely nuanced performances in the past, come off a bit two dimensional in this outing. That distracts from the inexorable building of tension that should be more gripping than it is. Rifenbery, by contrast, is quite convincing in a pleasantly understated performance as Elaine’s two-faced best friend.
John Pfaffe, a consistently reliable and skillful actor, plays the trench-coated police lieutenant Walker to a tee. Even more delightful is the flamboyant neighbor Appleby, played by another theatre mainstay, Joe Grant. He’s so compelling and likable that I wished he had more stage time.
The set, designed by Burton Yuen with props and set dressing by Becca Heines, deserves its own accolades. There’s obvious wealth behind the spare, modern 1970’s NYC apartment, which includes a perspective painted checkerboard floor, fine art on the walls, a Caldor mobile, an Eames chair, and a Mondrian inspired back wall skinned with a semi-transparent scrim. Throughout the play, the wall morphs and pulsates with a wide range of colors and lighting effects (Niclas R. Olson), adding both visual pleasure and mood.
Adding to the pleasant setting were the costumes (Francis Rankos), especially the iconic ones on Blanche and the hilariously outré ones worn by Appleby. The aforementioned sound effects (Joe Kelly) included eerie songs, street sounds, and the rest of the needed stage noises that bring realism to theatre.
If for you, October is just not complete without a foray into the eerie, you should add this play to your to Halloween to-do list.
Oct. 19 to Nov. 11, 2012
Tacoma Little Theatre