Nightwatch' proves a challenging mystery

Play: The Bowie Theatre Company's production of the Lucille Fletcher thriller should keep audience members guessing until the end.

February 10, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We who braved last Friday's weather to attend Bowie Theatre Company's opening of "Nightwatch" found few problems at its location in Whitemarsh Park. Although nestled in the woods, the large parking lot was completely cleared of snow, and the walk from the lot to Bowie Playhouse was easily navigable.

Not challenged by the weather, we were challenged by Lucille Fletcher's mystery thriller. Set in the elegant Manhattan townhouse of heiress Elaine Wheeler and her stockbroker husband John, the play is filled with confusing turns to keep the audience guessing.

Through her window overlooking an abandoned tenement building, Elaine witnesses two murders, neither verified by policemen called in to investigate.

As played by Janice Coffey, Elaine was not only exasperating to husband John (Michael N. Dunlop) but to at least half of us in the audience. Coffey twitched and trembled her way through most of the first act, punctuating her portrayal of the frail Elaine with ear-splitting, nerve-shattering screams.

Until late in the first act, we agreed with John that Elaine should relax and stop bothering Detective Lieutenant Walker (Zareh Mosian). Only after Elaine was rebuked a few times by her cold husband did we feel a glimmer of sympathy for her.

This initial annoyance contributed to our appreciation of Coffey's skill in developing her character into the more controlled Elaine of the second act.

Dunlop is believable in the role of the successful husband, who is tired of humoring his insomniac wife.

His portrayal is one of subtlety, as he gradually reveals John's coldness and philandering so that the audience becomes more involved and transfers its sympathies from John to Elaine.

As Elaine's best friend and houseguest Blanche Cook, Juliette Pahl is credible in a role that demands she seem a bit wooden.

As Elaine's loyal maid Helga, Kimberly Fizdale gives a solid performance filled with welcome humor and warmth as she exclaims with proper intonation, "Gott in Himmel!" to express her incredulity.

Ken Sabel displays a deft comedy touch as he romps through the role of nosy neighbor Curtis Appleby, obviously enjoying this departure from his usual strong, authoritative roles suited his physical stature.

Lindra Best does well in the pivotal role of the competent, kindly psychiatrist Tracey Lake.

Other supporting players include Larry Berlin as the art-loving cop Vanelli, and John Malloy as the delicatessen owner Sam Hoke.

Director Brad Tresek moves the complex action forward smoothly at a lively pace and draws strong performances from the cast.

T. C. Bates' set is attractive and works well with the descending stairs at stage front for the many exits and entrances. "Nightwatch" continues on weekends at Bowie Playhouse through Feb. 19. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Call the theater at 301-805-0219 to order seats.

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