I have been a fan of Lucille Fletcher ever since I was a kid glued to my black and white TV watching her radio play “The Hitch-Hiker” adaptation on “The Twilight Zone.” And then there was Agnes Moorhead’s brilliant radio performance on May 25, 1943, as the invalid who overhears a murder plot on the telephone, realizing only too late it is meant for her in Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number” which starred Barbara Stanwyck in the 1948 film noir. These strong lead women found themselves in situations not of their own making, trying desperately to escape their fate.
But I was not familiar with her play NIGHT WATCH before experiencing the fabulous production now onstage at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills through February 24. Jeff G. Rack’s dark and moody set greets you as you walk in, setting the scene for the adventure ahead. Bruce Gray directs with a keen eye for suspense and quick pacing which will keep you guessing until the end. Gray’s cast includes Christine Joëlle, Jennifer Lee Laks, Jonathan Medina, Judy Naizmetz, Lary Ohlson, Leda Siskind, David Hunt Stafford and Martin Thompson.
As the play opens, we meet Elaine Wheeler (Jennifer Lee Laks) who is beautiful, rich and sleepless. She has a husband, John (Martin Thompson) who she loves deeply, and a home festooned with the paintings of modern masters in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan. She has wealth and beauty, so what is contributing to her unease?
The mystery begins when Elaine observes one corpse, and then another in the building opposite her home. When two police detectives (Jonathan Medina and David Hunt Stafford) are called in to investigate, they can find not a shred of evidence, and the bodies are missing. But Elaine insists that she saw what she saw, driving herself and everyone around her to their emotional limits.
Her husband, her best friend Blanche (Christine Joëlle) and her maid, Helga (Judy Nazemetz) become concerned for her sanity. A famed psychiatrist (Leda Siskind) is called in, and plans are made for Elaine to be sent to an exclusive sanitarium in Switzerland. Meanwhile, will the killer strike again? Is Elaine’s life in deadly danger? Who is responsible for bloody murders? You’ll have to see NIGHT WATCH to find out. There’s an array of suspects with a twist ending worthy of O. Henry. Just keep in mind that revenge is a dish best served cold.
This is one of the best productions I have seen at Theatre 40, a brilliantly written script visualized and presented by a talented production team and cast who truly understand the material and what it takes to keep you at the edge of your seat, trying to figure out just who has done what to whom. Laks and Thompson fully inhabit their roles as a typical push-and-pull married couple, warm one moment and ice cold the next. The ever-lovely Joëlle has us believing she is a warm and caring friend, offering her support to the point of giving up her nursing job at the Mayo Clinic just to help her friend Elaine. But there is a dark secret Joëlle reveals with a mere flash of her eyes when you least expect it which will leave you gasping.
Judy Nazemetz is a hoot as the Germanic housekeeper Helga, sufficiently evil and suspicious to the point that you will question her efforts to help Elaine as being totally self-serving. Lary Ohlson portrays crazy neighbor Curtis Appleby who offers a bit of comic relief amid all the suspenseful goings-on. But he is just creepy enough to make you wonder at his motives. And what does Elaine’s first husband Carl have to do with her impending sense of dread?
For those who love a good tale of suspense that will keep you guessing until the end, be sure to see NIGHT WATCH at Theatre 40 – before it’s too late!