'Murder of the Waterfront' is flimsy but fun

January 10, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

A serial killer mingles undetected with the audience leaving behind threatening notes and a trail of baby rattles as clues to his or her identity in an entertaining new dinner theater show being produced by Howard Perloff at the Fells Point Cabaret Theatre through March 10.

"Murder on the Waterfront" was directed by Ron Pacie of New York and written by his wife, Joani. This flimsy, fun piece is also an audience participation event with the patrons (before, during and after dinner) helping the police solve the baffling mystery.

Various actors sit at different tables drawing those around them into the action.

A chain-smoking, tough talking detective in shabby trench coat (played with square-jawed forthrightness by excellent professional actor John Ward) interrupts the seductive warbling of the slinky cabaret singer (Lorianna Beyers) to announce a bomb scare.

In the ensuing scenes two waitresses are knifed in the back and four more lurid deaths follow.

On the night we viewed the show (New Year's Eve) the play's physical structure was too spread out, not centered. Since the performance is not continuous the pace has to race at a high level. The actors need fuller projection of character and the stage business must be more clean cut.

There are lots of gags and surprises in this amusing parody but we do not want to give away the "shocking" ending. Suffice to say properly melodramatic performances (among others) were turned in by: Randy Hodgson, Thomas F. Barton, Gil Grail, Celia DTC Rocca, Anita Elizabeth Horwath and Harry Susser.

(A mention has to be made of the fine Howard Perloff Orchestra and terrific blues singer, Toni Collins, who provided the after-show dance music and songs).

"Angel Street," the classic suspense thriller by Patrick Hamilton, on stage at the Vagabond Theatre through Feb. 3 has a very nice set and some gripping moments.

The action of the play takes place in the Pimlico district of London in 1880. The story tells of Bella, a haggard, distraught wife who fears she is losing her mind. Other characters are Jack, Bella's sadistic husband and a detective searching for the murderer of the house's previous owner.

The direction by Sharon Weaver is static, uneven and one-dimensional. Weaver has the cast unnecessarily entering and exiting through the audience, which constantly breaks the illusion.

Laura McFarland (a usually good actress) excessively downplays the role of Bella to a zombielike state. This character has to be a nervous, fidgeting wreck from moment one. She must constantly teeter on the edge of hysterical madness to justify her great rage at the conclusion.

Still McFarland builds nicely in the raving final scene, but director Weaver has the actress completely drop the powerful climax, cutting (unforgivably) the three vital final lines of her speech. The momentum is lost and the play completely fizzles.

Michael Hoffmaster is a sinister enough Jack but lacks the suave, subtle shadings of this devious character. Jessica Cowling is believable as a saucy maid but must be more openly brazen and insolent in her interpretation.

Penny Nichols is a nice, kindly housekeeper but Brian Applestein, despite an earnest performance, is miscast in the stolid, mature role of Inspector Rough. Also, physically Applestein is no match for Hoffmaster and their fight scene does not convince.

"Run for Your Wife," the hilarious comedy by English playwright Ray Cooney about a bigamist taxi-driver, is being given disappointing treatment at the Spotlighters Theatre.

Although the play by virtue of the sheer strength of the script rises to some funny peaks, the fast, necessary choreographed movement and exact timing imperative to the art of high farce are missing. These characters must fly out of corners.

Although there are some fairly decent performances by Jim Codd, Bill Rucker, Robin W. Chapin, Mike Keating, Mary Monet and Maria Helena Diaz, Michael O'Connell in the lead role is completely miscast. An actor of limited ability, O'Connell lolls around the stage with a poker face, scraping only the surface of this greatly agitated character.

Rodney Atkins as the driver's close buddy is too laid back in this frenzied role.

Directed by Harriet Broady, "Run for Your Wife" continues through Jan. 27.

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