"Night Must Fall" Windy River Winery in Beaverdam 8 p.m., Thursday - Saturday Through Aug. 21 $12 741-0377
Night does fall in the Experiential Theatre Company production of "Night Must Fall." Eventually. But by the time it does, you may be thinking more about when the curtain is going to fall on this melodramatic mystery. The show is occasionally suspenseful, features a superb performance by Justin Dray, and has one top-notch scare. Even so, it drags on about 30 minutes longer than necessary.
Director W.R. "Hutch" Hutchinson builds the tension expertly, like he's slowly filling a balloon with air. But instead of ending with a satisfying pop, the show deflates into a vague, flabby conclusion without any of the sense of apprehension that underscores many of the earlier scenes. What could have been snappy and thrilling at 90 minutes is instead promising, but ultimately unsatisfying, at two hours plus.
Dray plays the cheerful but twitchy stranger, Dan, who insinuates himself into the life and household of the old, wealthy and mean Mrs. Bramson (Marge Buchanan). Though initially resistant to his charms, Mrs. Bramson soon falls under Dan's seductive spell. She is particularly happy to have a man around after a local woman is found murdered and decapitated, a beastly crime that has all of England speculating. Mrs. Bramson's niece Olivia (Sara Heifetz) suspects that there is something hidden beneath Dan's rosy disposition and, eventually, so does the local cop, Inspector Belsize (Dante Giammarco).
As Dan, Dray is a whirlwind of gregarious charm, sudden mood swings and nervous tics. The energy of his performance is so strong that the other actors often seem like moths fluttering around a lantern. But Dray's talents are greater than this role; he keeps trying to develop Dan into a character of depth and resonance, but the play eventually leaves him with nowhere to go.
Buchanan's stately and straightforward portrayal of Mrs. Bramson complements Dray's Dan perfectly. The two characters clash in a wonderful tˆte-…-tˆte in the first act. The tension between them is defused shortly thereafter, however, so only Heifetz's Olivia remains to challenge Dan. Unfortunately, Olivia is sometimes so excruciatingly melodramatic that even an actress with Heifetz's gifts cannot turn her into a believable character.
Stephanie Kelley warrants attention as the flighty maid, Dora, who first brings Dan into the scene. Kelley exudes an unassuming innocence and uses her fidgety physicality to good effect. As with so many things in this show, though, Dora is left to wilt on the vine, never developing into more than a diversion in the background.
The show's set is nicely appointed with authentic-looking antiques, thanks to scenic designer Todd A. Schall-Vess. The lighting, also designed by Schall-Vess includes an effective flickering light effect but is somewhat flat and undistinguished otherwise.
Late in the show, the possibility for an interesting plot twist arises when Mrs. Bramson proves to be more mobile than previously revealed. However, nothing develops out of this revelation, and the play continues on at its languid pace. When the best diversion at a show becomes second-guessing the playwright, you know things have gone on long enough. Though it aspires to be a taut thriller, "Night Must Fall" ends up as more of a limp
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