Theatre Review by Fergus McGillicuddy
NEW YORK - March 8, 1999
It occurs to me there are a few things you might like to know before running out to buy tickets to the National Actors Theatre's revival of Night Must Fall, opening tonight at the Lyceum Theatre. The first is it's a strictly limited run, to April 18, so plan to see it as soon as you can. The second is that it's a play written some 65 years ago, and apart from a new, brief, totally gratuitous nude scene at the beginning, the script hasn't been fiddled around with much. (Check all contemporary notions and expectations of plot and pacing at the door; you don't need them and they will only get in the way of enjoying this production which is, on the whole, surprisingly authentic and true to period style.) And third, keep your eyes on Judy Parfitt, who is here, in her American stage debut, giving one of the most eccentrically mannered, unabashedly self-confident, and thoroughly entertaining performances you are likely to see in many a Broadway season.
Night Must Fall has all the makings of one of those wonderful, old fashioned British murder mysteries. Set in 1935 in a cottage in Essex, we are introduced to the rich and controlling old Mrs. Bramson (Judy Parfitt), and Olivia Grayne (J. Smith-Cameron), the beautiful but pennyless niece reduced to acting as personal assistant and companion to her disagreeable aunt. We meet the affable Hubert Laurie, Olivia's would be suitor (Michael Countryman), and the domestics; the plain spoken, gossipy housekeeper Mrs. Terrence (Patricia Kilgarriff), and the bumbling and pregnant maid Dora Parkoe (Seana Kofoed). There's the no nonsense visiting county nurse, Nurse Libby (Jennifer Wiltsie) and even Scotland Yard in the person of Inspector Belsize (Peter McRobbie).
And then there's Dan, played by Matthew Broderick.
Night Must Fall is not the stereotypical whodunit you might expect. In fact, to label it as a murder mystery is somewhat misleading. It could more accurately be placed in the genre of psychological thriller, for it's perfectly obvious from the beginning just who the murderer in question is and that he will murder again and who the victim will be.
As Mrs. Bramson, the domineering, wheelchair-bound grande dame, whose vanity is assuaged by the calculated attentions of young Danny, to the point of seeming to court her own death, Judy Parfitt (The Jewel in the Crown, Dolores Claiborne) is glorious. Parfitt understands the key to her character is a core of loneliness, yet does not stoop to playing for sympathy. Her character is far too proud for that, and would be appalled to think anyone would feel sorry for her. These days we would call that being in denial. In 1935 it was an expected social norm. Either way its damn good acting.
As Olivia Grayne, J. Smith-Cameron clearly shows us both the repulsion and the repressed physical attraction and fascination Olivia feels for the handsome young Danny. As with her Alexa Vere de Vere in Off-Broadway's As Bees in Honey Drown, Smith-Cameron gives a performance which is smart, tart, and edgy.
Matthew Broderick's Dan is ostensibly nothing more than a cheerful lad from the village, ever willing to pander to Mrs. Bramson's whims. He skillfully insinuates himself into her affections while preventing her niece from giving him away to the police. At first, Broderick (late of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) seems to be underplaying quite a bit. However, in the confrontations of the second act, the menace and capacity for violence is unquestionable, and on full display, having been subtly established aforehand. Overall, it's an effectively measured and paced performance, delightfully threatening and creepy in its ultimate theatricality.
John Tillinger's (Broadway's Getting and Spending and The Sunshine Boys) direction is brisk and efficient. The set, by James Noone, is supposed to look that way. The lighting, by Brian MacDevitt, is effective and offers many humourous comments on the proceedings. The costumes, by Jess Goldstein, are good enough not to require comment.
The National Actors Theatre presents Matthew Broderick in Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams. Also starring Judy Parfitt with Michael Countryman, Seana Kofoed, Patrick Kilgarriff, Peter McRobbie, Jennifer Wiltsie and J. Smith-Cameron. Directed by John Tillinger with set by James Noone, costumes by Jess Goldstein, lighting by Brian MacDevitt, and sound by Aural Fixation.
Theatre: Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 6th Avenue)
Dates and Times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Wednesday and Saturday at 2 P.M., Sunday at 3 P.M. No performances Tuesday, March 9 at 8 P.M. and Thursday, March 18 at 8 P.M.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission approximately one hour into the show.
Audience: May be appropriate for children 12 and older. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge at (212) 239-6255, or outside the New York metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M., Sunday Noon to 6 P.M.
Tickets by Internet: NetTiks at http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by snail mail: Night Must Fall, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998.
Rush Tickets: Student Rush $10 tickets are available for all performances only at the Box Office and subject to availability. Valid Student I.D. is required. Limit 2 tickets per I.D.