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I'll Be Back Before Midnight

Also see Sharon's review of Chess


Ron Orbach, Kate Maher, Joanna Strapp
and Tyler Pierce

I'll Be Back Before Midnight is the sort of play that screams "regional theatre staple." A four-character comic thriller, it doesn't try to be anything more than what it is: a sometimes funny, sometimes jump-inducing diversion. In its Los Angeles premiere production at the Colony theatre, it is perfectly executed. This is a show that won't leave you debating about anything in the car on the way home, but it will leave you smiling, feeling solidly entertained.

Start with a rustic farmhouse living room, nicely realized by set designer Stephen Gifford. There's a door to the kitchen stage right, a pass-through window next to it, double-doors that can shut off the hallway center stage, and a curtained window stage left. When all doors and curtains are shut, with a frightened character inside and creepy music playing, you just know something shocking is going to come through one of those entrances—you just don't know which. As your eyes scan the room, trying to predict where the scare will be, you might notice your pulse quickening, just a bit. The show is directed by its playwright, Peter Colley, and he knows exactly what he's doing, masterfully directing your eye where he wants—so you rarely see coming what he doesn't want you to see coming. At the same time, though, playwright Colley plays fair with his audience, giving you enough clues along the way that, in retrospect, make you think that you should have seen it all coming. It takes a confident playwright to tip you off and still get away with surprising you; and, if the opening night audience was any indication, Colley succeeds.

The script, which owes a debt to Deathtrap (and a smaller debt to Poe), centers around a couple, Greg and Jan, who are trying to make a fresh start out in the country. (Unfortunately, the names kept reminding me of "The Brady Bunch.") Jan is "recovering" from something, recently released from the "hospital"—and it doesn't take you too long to realize which type of hospital. She is cheerfully optimistic, but also a bundle of nerves. Joanna Strapp does a convincing job with Jan's delicate condition; she's frequently breathing audibly, as though just getting through life is a scary experience. She giggles nervously and sometimes her voice goes up involuntarily. But she's also stronger than she looks; when Jan hears a frightening noise from behind a curtain, she's the sort of person who will open the curtain, rather than run away.

Tyler Pierce's Greg is a loving, supportive husband—except when he's not. He's happy to be back with Jan and able to give their marriage another try while they're out in the country, away from it all. The only problem is that he's brought some of "it" with him, in the person of his sister Laura. Where Jan is bubbly and a bit disarranged, Laura is smooth and polished. Kate Maher gives Laura a distant, citified warmth—she's the sort of person who would say "kiss, kiss" rather than give you a genuine hug. Jan is disappointed to learn that Laura has been invited to their country getaway; it seems that she and Laura have a past, and it isn't a friendly one. But Greg is adamant. As the play progresses, we learn that Greg and Laura have a past as well, perhaps a too-friendly one.

The fourth character in our play is George, the local farmer who owns the farmhouse and has rented it to the family. His role in the drama is to welcome Greg and Jan, and, rather more importantly, cheerfully tell them that the farmhouse is haunted. You know, because of the murder. Right here, in this living room. Ron Orbach's George is playful and friendly, with that country charm you'd expect from a character like this. He's also amusingly clueless about how his yarn of ghosts is affecting Jan.

All the right clues are dropped along the way (wait a minute, did Laura just let slip that she'd been to the house before?) and you know that, by the end of the play, some of those weapons conveniently placed on the walls are going to get used. By play's end, you know the truth about everything, and you've had a damn good time getting there.

I'll Be Back Before Midnight runs at the Colony theatre through March 3, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.ColonyTheatre.org.

The Colony Theatre Company Barbara Beckley, Artistic Director; Trent Steelman, Executive Director presents I'll Be Back Before Midnight by Peter Colley. Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford; Costume Design by Diane K. Graebner; Lighting Design by Luke Moyer; Sound Design by Drew Dalzell; Properties Design and Set Dressing by MacAndME; Production Stage Manager Leesa Freed; Public Relations David Elzer/Demand PR; Directed by Peter Colley and David Rose.

Cast:
Greg Sanderson Tyler Pierce
Jan Sanderson Joanna Strapp
George Willowby Ron Orbach
Laura Sanderson Kate Maher


Photo: Michael Lamont


- Sharon Perlmutter






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