Unique Story Line Helps To Obscure Flaws In 'Nightwatch'

Day Does Well In Directing Debut With Carroll Players

October 16, 1991|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

WESTMINSTER — The Carroll Players' fall production, "Nightwatch," is not your classic "whodunit."

Rather, it is a psychological thriller that keeps audiences asking "why?" as much as "who?"

The unusual and mature mystery drama also gives theatergoers the opportunity to attend a play written by a fellow Marylander.

Lucille Fletcher, who lives on the Eastern Shore, is known for her mysterynovels and for her classic radio play, "Sorry, Wrong Number," which was made into a novel, a teleplay and a film.

In the suspenseful "Nightwatch," events and characters are complex, rather than numerous and convoluted, as in the more-conventional mystery.

After three sleepless nights, Elaine Wheeler (Roberta Rooney) looks out the windowof her New York brownstone and lets out a blood-curdling scream. Shecalls the police to say she has seen a dead man staring at her from the next building. They find no body.

She sights another body, this time a woman. Again, no corpse.

There are numerous reminders of a traumatic incident from her past and the hint of collusion between her husband and her best friend.

Two frustrated police investigators, a German maid and two neighbors thicken a plot that eventually unravels in fascinating and novel fashion.

The Carroll Players, under first-time director Kathy Day, provide an engaging evening.

It is a remarkable production, marked -- whether by chance or by design -- by a cast that includes three county high school drama teachers anddirectors.

The production is further marked by the theatrical debut of Frocks' Sunnybrook Farm owner, Gene Frock, who, after serving

dinner to the audience, runs backstage and gets into costume.

Frock is funny as a neighborhood deli owner who worries that the policepresence will lower property values along with the value of his potato salad and roast beef.

This production, though, has too many instances of carelessness with the text and its logic.

As written, Patrolman Vanelli is a less-educated character than Lieutenant Walker. It's jarring to see and hear Vanelli portrayed as an intellectual andthe latter as a kind of frantic Lieutenant Columbo.

Helga the German maid is well-played by Kathy Schnorr, but her accent takes her from Berlin to Oslo to Stockholm and back again. The best friend from the Midwest often sounds almost British. And the neighbor, whom Fletcher describes as "odd," could come from the islands -- Ireland or Staten.

Jim Naylor, as the neighbor, captures the gentle, nurturing side of the character, but his blatant stereotype of the odder side wasless than effective.

Director Day does well in her initial effort. Her stage pictures are not strong, but given the size of the stage this is a difficult task. She overused the right side of the stage below the crucial window, and further complicated matters through the lack of adequate lighting there.

Carelessly, a character phones to send a telegram and asks that it be read back, but hangs up before itcould be. And why does the psychiatrist twice say, "Go on," when there have been no pauses or anything else to indicate that the character won't?

And why does a jobless nurse from the Midwest sound, look, dress and act more sophisticated than her cultured cosmopolitan hostess?

The production is carried by the natural, almost underplayedapproach of Paul Zimmerman and Rooney as the wealthy couple and central characters.

Rooney has some difficulty finding variety in her more intense and heightened moments, but neither seems "actorish" andboth avoid melodrama.

Take advantage as "Nightwatch" continues. You won't be disappointed.

Performances of "Nightwatch" continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Oct. 24-26 at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm in Westminster. Doors open at 6 p.m. for Friday and Saturday shows, at1 p.m. Sundays. Tickets, which include dinner, are $16 for the evening shows, $15 for the matinees.

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