Night Must Fall
Also see Susan's review of The Alchemist
Perhaps the time has passed for Emlyn Williams' 1936 psychological thriller Night Must Fall, now at the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. As directed by John Going, the play comes across as overly talky, and there's an ongoing problem with unintentionally humorous lines.
The premise would seem as solid as ever, if a bit old-fashioned. Elderly Mrs. Bramson (Rosemary Prinz) is a domestic tyrant in her rural English cottage. She bosses around the housekeeper (Anne Stone), the maid (Briel Banks) and especially Olivia, her niece and companion (Julie-Ann Elliott). It's a familiar if constricting life, right down to Olivia's persistent suitor (Carl Randolph) who comes to the house every day.
Into this closed system comes Dan (Tim Getman), a bellman from a local hotel who soon charms Mrs. Bramson and gradually takes over the household. Olivia has suspicions about the handsome strangerespecially after Inspector Belsize (Paul Morella) announces the disappearance of a woman from the hotel where Dan used to workbut the others think she's overreacting, and she doesn't really understand her feelings.
The problem with this production is that Getman plays the character as insolent and overly self-confident from his first entrance; while fond and foolish Mrs. Bramson comes to overlook Dan's faults and consider him the son she never had, and the maid has had her own indiscretions with him, one would think the no-nonsense housekeeper (a deadpan delight as played by Stone) would call him on his cockiness.
Prinz finds the self-mocking humor in a woman who demands that those around her cater to her every fleeting desire. In contrast, while Elliott has shown depth in her previous performances, her characterization of Olivia remains frustratingly opaque.
James Wolk's scenic design, with its dark wallpaper, does a good job of conveying the grim isolation of Mrs. Bramson's house, shrouded by woods and dogged by a growing sense of menace.
Olney Theatre Center