Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Lucille Fletcher’s NIGHT WATCH, a tale of a woman’s witness of a murdered corpse, her possession with distressed memories and blurred fears, as well as latching on to a mysterious and tragic past.
Taking place within the Manhattan townhouse of the Weeler clan, Elaine Weeler (Jennifer Lee Laks) undergoing a night of insomnia, glances out her living room window that faces a vacant building across the way. She sees a window on that structure that always had its shades drawn. However, the window is open where a dead man is seated on an overstuffed chair. She shrieks in fear, arousing her husband John (Martin Thompson). She insists that she did see a murdered body at that window. John, taking a glance, sees nothing, only the window with its shades drawn as always. Shriveling in fear, she insists that John contacts the police to investigate. Law enforcement does arrive, only to find nothing. In fact, the building is totally vacant from a fire that broke out months before. John sees that his wife is on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, but she insists on calling the cops to investigate. Lt. Walker (David Hunt Stafford) of the NYPD is called on the case, but still finds nothing. This leads John to bring in a psychiatrist, Dr. Tracy Lake (Leda Siskind), suggesting that Elaine checks into a prestigious and rather elite sanitarium for treatment. But there is more to Elaine’s emotional breakdown, springing from a set of emotional episodes she encountered years before. Is this corpse playing a part from her troubled past? And is John involved in something that is also triggering Elaine’s current state of being?
This play can be described as one part thriller, second part mystery, and third part suspenseful, with a collection of plot twists that show off upon who might be behind the “whodunit” up to its final climax. The late playwright Lucille Fletcher has created a number of plays and related works within her long career that emphasis physiological emotion within its lead character. (Her most famous work is “Sorry Wrong Number”, first presented on the radio drama series Suspense in the 1940’s.) As to Theatre 40’s presentation, Jennifer Lee Laks as Elaine is ideal as the woman who is on the end of her wits, even though when prompt, she can keep a cool head. Martin Thompson as her spouse John also keeps composed while supporting his wife as much as he can, even though he might have a skeleton or two within his personal “closet”. These two players interact with one another as the plot thickens from its get-go! And there are the other featured performers as well. Judy Nazemetz plays Helga, the Weeler’s live in maid portrayed as a classic house frau. David Hunt Stafford as Lt. Walker is the standard cop that one would pass for a conventional police detective. Leda Siskind as Dr. Tracy Lake is a no-nonsense psychiatrist that uses her presence, taking a chapter from the Sigmund Freud school of head shrinkers. Leading up the cast is Lary Ohlson as neighbor Curtis Appleby, a flamboyant elder Brit that randomly enters the Wheeler’s home that seems to be interested in what’s going on more than he should. Jonathan Medina plays officer Gonzalez, a young NYPD beat cop. And rounding out the cast is John McGuire as Sam Hoke, a deli owner whose shop is right next door to the vacant building, while Elaine claims that he holds a striking resembles to the dead body she saw through the window.
Bruce Gray directs this showpiece that will thrill its audience, making them guess on who is the hero, the victim, and to expose if anyone really “did it”, versus “whodunit”!
And a special note goes to Jeff G. Rack’s set design of the Wheeler living room that combines classic (and slightly stuffy) Manhattan-esque vintage furnishings with a slight touch to period modern. The play was first presented c.1972, and although the plot itself is timeless, the usage of communication from the period remains, generally within the mode of the usage of land line dial phones as well as an application of a telegram.
NIGHT WATCH holds a brisk pace throughout and contains its robust share of unique characters. It also keeps a plot that isn’t very easy to solve. That is yet another reason to state that they don’t make thrillers such as this one as they used to. Then again, it’s usually the crazy ones that hold to the most logic, rather than the other way around!
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