The verdict is in: It's gripping

Audience is jury in Bowie Community Theatre's `Anatomy of a Murder'

review

Arundel Live

October 21, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bowie Community Theatre starts its 40th season with the suspenseful courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, which becomes highly charged interactive theater involving the audience in a search for truth. Director Estelle Miller has chosen to cast the entire audience as the jury that will decide the defendant's guilt or innocence.

Based on a 1958 book by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver, it became a classic film in 1959, and Anatomy of a Murder was adapted for the stage in 1964.

It raises intriguing questions about the motivation of Paul Biegler, the former district attorney who takes on the defense of Lt. Frederick Manion, accused of murdering a bartender who allegedly raped his wife.

Persuaded by a lawyer friend to take on his first case as a defense attorney, Biegler might be influenced by a grudge against Mitch Lodwick, the man who replaced him as DA, and by Lodwick's shrewd assistant, Claude Dancer. This creates courtroom confrontations that require skilled actors.

Fascinating questions also arise about Manion's real motive for murder, including whether his flirtatious wife Laura was raped.

The validity of the psychological diagnosis and the irresistible impulse/temporary insanity plea arouse our curiosity. Is Biegler's motivation to prove the innocence of his client based on his belief or on getting on the opposing legal team?

To create this fascinating courtroom drama, Miller has assembled a first-rate cast playing legal experts and multidimensional characters who posit these questions for the audience to weigh.

In a tour de force performance that requires his near-constant presence on stage to deliver reams of difficult dialogue, Jose de la Mar seems to inhabit the Paul Biegler character. De la Mar's is a subtle portrait that leaves us with unanswered questions about his sophistication and true motivation.

David Thompson is chillingly perfect as the enigmatic career military man Manion, who seems to be containing a volcano of emotions under his soldier's exterior.

As Biegler's legal opponent Claude Dancer, Richard McGraw delivers a dazzling portrayal to add to his growing list of memorable performances.

Michael Gilmore brings the right combination of quiet strength and reliability to his portrayal of Judge Harlan Weaver, always in charge of his courtroom, limiting attorneys' histrionics.

In her BTC debut, Jodie Calvert gives a convincing portrayal of Laura Manion, and projects the right seductive image.

Sam Shelton is on the mark as Biegler's aging, still-sharp and loveable assistant, Parnell McCarthy.

All of the supporting players are guilty of creating an evening of cliffhanging, spellbinding theater that keeps us wondering long after the final curtain.

Anatomy of a Murder continues weekends through Oct. 28. For tickets or information: 301-805-0219.

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