Only the other day, I said to a friend, "Whatever happened to negligees?" I can now report that at least one survives. It's currently on view at Stray Dog Theatre.
"I'll Be Back Before Midnight" is a murder mystery taking place in that classic setting, a creepy country house. This one is far from baronial, though. The wallpaper is peeling, the wood stove doesn't work until sometime in the second act, and windows slam shut unexpectedly. Just the place to take someone after an extended psychiatric hospitalization, right?
Jeff Kargus is the dorky grad student who's chosen this spot for his still-fragile wife Angela Bubash. It turns out he's researching a nearby quarry, whose owner, Mark Abels, has rented him the house. And just to increase the cozy factor, he's also invited his sister, Sarajane Alverson, to stay a while, despite his wife's distaste for her sister-in-law.
Angela Bubash brings good life to the anxious young wife, carrying her fears physically as well as verbally. Kargus' protestations of love seem unconvincing, although one isn't sure if that's a directorial decision or his own - the words are right but there's a real lack of warmth between them except in one scene.
The young couple, though, in some ways take a back seat to the other two characters. Farmer Sam, the landlord who lives across the road, as played by Abels, is rather a charmer, cozy and folksy and eager for company, especially if they're pouring whiskey, which he hints for rather broadly. And Alverson's portrayal of the sister Laura, while broad, delivers all the sinisterness that the other characters seemingly lack. (I kept thinking of a now-former presidential candidate.) She's the one parading the negligee, and marabou slippers, too.
The set, from scenic designer Rob Lippert, is properly tacky, enough so that the sister's butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth pronouncement upon eyeing the house upon her arrival, "What a charming place", gives us immediate notice of her character. Justin Been's sound adds to things, and he doubled in brass as the director of the show.
The problem is the script. It was written in the late '70's, and is having a very awkward middle age. It's not quite old enough to be a period piece, just old enough that you have to remember cell phones weren't common then. In fact, I can say with certainty that four-month psychiatric stays were very uncommon then, and that anyone that ill probably wouldn't have been sent home on Librium. Furthermore - WARNING: RANT AHEAD - one does not check into a hospital, a phrase used in the play and commonly all around us. Hospitals are not like the Four Seasons or even Motel 6. One is admitted to a hospital - it takes a physician's order, rather than walking up and saying, "I'm here. Do you have a nice single that has a view?"
But I digress. The play has bits of Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen, the cast does well and it's a fun, and not intellectually strenuous, evening.
I'll Be Back Before Midnight
through February 20, 2016
Stray Dog Theatre
Toer Grove Abbey