Saturday, April 27, 2019

Laura at TLT

All the unusual suspects  
by Michael Dresdner

Rodman Bolek as McPherson    All photos by Dennis K Photography
Tacoma Little Theatre has been showcasing its 100th year by offering plays they’ve done in the past. This time it is one that has lain fallow for 70 some years, the 1940’s noir classic Laura. Director Randy Clark assembled an excellent cast to unwind this classic murder mystery, one well-larded with great characters and all the requisite surprises of a fine whodunit. To set the mood, he relied not only on perfect props, set, and costumes, but also chose to use the main curtain, something TLT rarely does.  

As the curtain draws back we see a gorgeous city apartment with a large portrait of a beautiful woman over the fireplace. It’s the home of Laura, a successful advertising exec who was found dead there, with much of her face blown away by a shotgun. Staring lovingly at the portrait is detective Mark McPherson (Rodman Bolek), who while investigating the case has rather fallen for the victim. He’s so taken with her that at one point he believes he sees Laura (Victoria Ashley) walk through the door in the flesh. Or is he just dreaming?

L to R: Victoria Ashley, Ben Stahl 
Meanwhile, he must sort through the cast of potential suspects. They largely consist of a handful of men who have pursued the beautiful Laura with varying strategies, and varying degrees of success. There’s her fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Randon Welch), a somewhat smarmy gold-digger who is clearly losing Laura’s devotion. From downstairs in her building is Danny Dorgan (Joel Thomas), a young man who visits Laura frequently on the pretext of a shared taste in somewhat avant-garde music, but who secretly pines for the older woman. Then there’s the tall, suave, erudite journalist Waldo Lydecker (Ben Stahl) who fashions himself as Laura’s Pygmalion and showers her with gifts and opportunities as he tries to craft her into someone who might adore him in return.  

Rounding out the cast is Danny’s mother, the building super, Mrs. Dorgan (Robin McGee), her cook Bessie (Valeria Sanchez-Jimenez), and another detective, Olsen (Steve Tarry) in a one minute, end-of-play walk-on role.

L to R: Randon Welch, Victoria Ashley 
This is a classic mystery where the clues are doled out piecemeal throughout the play, so I really can’t tell you much about the plot without ruining the mystery. You’ll have to trust me that it is well done and adroitly directed, with the action and pacing increasing as the play unfolds.

All the leads are quite admirable. Stahl is outstanding as Lydecker, commanding the stage with his air of self-assured elegance and wealth. Bolek handles the love-struck but focused detective quite convincingly, and Welch is fully believable as the rather oily fiancée. Thomas also does nicely as the slightly awkward young lothario, while Sanchez-Jimenez completely inhabits the role of Bessie, the cook, with just the right body language and mannerisms. And of course, it was nice to see the venerable Steve Tarry back on stage after a recent hiatus.

L to R: Rodman Bolek, Valeria Sanchez-Jimenez
By now it should come as no surprise that the technical aspects were well up to TLT’s exceptionally high standards. A gorgeous set by Blake York and scenic artist Jen York was graced by wonderful period props by Jeffery Weaver, who also handles hair and make-up. Michele Graves once again did a superb job on the period costumes, and Niclas Olson provided the lighting design, which in this play does its own share of heavy lifting, providing both mood and time cues. And let’s not forget stage manager Courtney Rainer who handled a fairly complex show smoothly and flawlessly.

All in all, Laura is an easy to watch, very enjoyable stage version of a classic noir murder mystery, steeped in period delights, and bound to please anyone with a fondness for this popular genre.  

L to R: Victoria Ashley, Rodman Bolek
One final note: Last season’s The Pillowman has made it to the national finals of the AACT theatre competition and will be traveling to Gettysburg, PA for the last leg of the competition. Along the way they’ve garnered awards for best set, best director, best actor, and best ensemble cast. Now they need our help to raise money for travel expenses. They have less than two months. Please consider pitching in (via the website) to send this fine cast back east to represent our state, county, and favorite local theatre.

April 26 to May 12, 2019
Tacoma Little Theatre

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