Homage to Hitchcock in 'Dangerous Obsession'

October 21, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

At its best, "Dangerous Obsession" -- a British psychological thriller receiving its local debut at the Spotlighters -- is reminiscent of the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Not knife-in-the-shower or swarming-birds-style Hitchcock. Instead, it's an homage by playwright N. J. Crisp to the master's subtler, creepier films -- the ones in which the lives of ordinary people are suddenly turned upside down in a way that leaves them forever changed.

Sally and Mark Driscoll are a well-to-do married couple leading a seemingly contented life. True, she has a bit of a drinking problem, but she's still an asset to her husband in those business situations that call for her social support.

However, when a man named John Barrett shows up claiming to have met the couple at a business conference, Sally has next to no recollection of him, or his wife. He wins her sympathy, though, when he reveals that his wife subsequently was the victim of a tragic automobile accident. Mark does remember John, but he shows considerably less sympathy for him.

The connection between these people turns out to be more than a casual acquaintanceship, as John goes to extreme measures to demonstrate. As the play progresses, the nature of that connection isn't difficult to guess. If you haven't figured it out by intermission, you should brush up on your whodunits.

The play isn't completely devoid of surprises, however. Just when you think the mystery's over, the author throws in a wonderful 11th-hour twist -- the script's most inspired Hitchcock-like touch.

As Mark, the unwelcome guest, Tony Reda delivers a carefully controlled performance that carries most of the weight of the drama. Joan Weber does an earnest job as Sally, a character who vacillates between graciousness and fear. As her chilly husband, however, John Wright is too much of a heavy from the start.

A play characterized more by revelation than action, "Dangerous Obsession" doesn't move too swiftly; Sharon Rosen's direction could stand to nudge it along a bit more. A further impediment stems from Allan Nichols' set design, which partially obstructs the view of a quarter of the audience by placing a sofa against one side of the in-the-round stage.

Mysteries are trickier to write, and perform, than they seem. This one has some fairly stilted dialogue, but it's clever in the understated British manner, and the Spotlighters' cast approaches it with fitting reserve. "Dangerous Obsession" won't tingle your spine, but it will give you a couple hours' pleasant diversion.

'Dangerous Obsession'

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through (( Oct. 30

Tickets: $8 and $9

Call: (410) 752-1225

** 1/2

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