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Weathervane stages mystery thriller

10/17/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Jonathan Riese (Dan) and Jennifer Hayek (Olivia) share a scene in Weathervane Playhouse’s “Night Must Fall.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — Weathervane Playhouse continues its season with the mystery-thriller-chiller “Night Must Fall,” which is on stage through Oct. 27.

A murder in the neighborhood keeps the locals in the English county of Essex all a twitter. Not only was the person murdered, but the head was missing.  What should Mrs. Bramson (Jo McGarvey) do? She’s firmly anchored in her wheelchair and surrounded by a staff of servants, including her niece Olivia Grayne (Jennifer Hayek). 

Olivia is lonely, but should she be lonely? Hubert Laurie (Adam Alderson) has proposed to her. Unfortunately, he is a perfect, well-mannered, financially secure young man. Olivia is taken with Dan (Jonathan Riese), who seems to be a bit edgy and wild. Dan is hardly the man her family would approve of as marriage material.

The local reporters and Inspector Belsize (Tom Stephan) won’t forget the murder and the missing head.

This script isn’t new to Weathervane fans. The play was first performed in the Weathervane “old barn” in January 1939.

Because Dan seems new to Essex, the women in Mrs. Bramson’s bungalow investigate his luggage. Two suitcases contain the usual shirts and trousers. One hat box (perfect for holding a head) is sealed and the women can’t get it opened. 

Playwright Emlyn Williams sometimes played Dan in “Night Must Fall.” As the playwright and lead actor, Williams knew the script intimately on several levels.

Unfortunately, he didn’t edit the script closely enough. The current production runs about two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission. Despite the hard work of director Eileen Moushey and a strong cast, the performance moves at a snail’s pace. The fault is not in the stars, but in the playwright. He needed to trim about 15 minutes from the script.

Moushey directed the cast to make this show properly suspenseful and typical of the plays performed in pre-World War II. She is an excellent director.

McGarvey has received nine acting awards from Weathervane and Coach House Theatre. McGarvey makes Mrs. Bramson a proper curmudgeon. She’s difficult, demanding, wealthy and a character anyone might want to murder. However, the murder victim is beheaded before the start of act one. McGarvey might add another acting trophy to her collection for this role.

Riese is tall, handsome and offers a character who is enough of the “bad boy” for Olivia to take an interest in him. He sings to Olivia and reads the Bible to Mrs. Bramson. He’s a good guy beneath his edgy exterior. Remember, this story takes place in 1935, and it was easier then to be a “bad boy.”

Mrs. Bramson lives in a bungalow. The living room of that bungalow was designed by scenic designer and technical director Alan Scott Ferrall. The designer and his volunteers have captured the pre-World War II look in the set and the furniture. The stage has plenty of room for murder and mayhem.

Costumer designer Jasen Smith captured the look of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The female cast members wore clothing appropriate for England as their country moved toward war. 

Because of the Great Depression in the United States in the late 1920s, new clothes and new furniture were rarely found in homes. The set and costumes in this production accurately reflected the tightness of funds across the globe.

“Night Must Fall” brings together most of the elements of a good murder mystery. If you enjoy the Agatha Christie mysteries the Coach House Theatre offers each season, you’ll enjoy “Night Must Fall.”

For tickets, call 330-836-2626.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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