BCT presents holiday murder-mystery
The Blaine Community Theater (BCT) production of Paul Thain’s dark and menacing murder mystery Black Widow opens Friday night, October 26, just in time for Halloween. It continues a tradition of presenting spooky stuff this time of year that brought the popular production of Dracula to Blaine two years ago.
This time, the local acting troupe and director Christopher Key have produced a play that is remarkably engrossing, a shadowy and dark kind of Wuthering Heights meets Uncle Scrooge, at least the one played by Alistair Sim in the 1951 black and white version of A Christmas Carol. Be advised that this is not a play for kids, but is a major piece of realistic grown-up drama that adults will really enjoy.
Thain, a former bus conductor in England, had a hit on his hands when it was first produced 10 years ago. It’s since been translated into many languages and produced around the world.
“It’s a great, creepy Halloween kind of show,” laughed Mikael Kenoyer, “even though I only have a couple of lines in this one.” Kenoyer, who has often worked with the local high school drama program, plays the police sergeant who arrests the main character.
The play is set in the Edwardian era near the turn of the last century and opens at the funeral of Lord Arlington, whose death apparently was from food poisoning. But his deranged daughter Emily, played to screeching perfection by Kristin Bruce, becomes convinced that her mother Cressida and her lover, pig farmer Richard Harker, are actually responsible for her father’s death, and she darkly plots revenge.
In the end, the audience, who becomes involved in the play, still isn’t sure if the right person is being carted off by the police.
The family is ruled by Arlington’s widow, Lady Isobel Arlington, played by veteran local favorite Kerry Walker with the same remarkable depth of talent she brought to Dracula. Since the play is done on a vacant, black stage without scenery or more than a few props, it depends on acting strength and some technical wizardry to succeed, and Walker and the others are in their element.
For one thing, Key has managed to get all the characters to speak in an Edwardian English accent that is nearly perfect, so seamless from one player to another that it becomes a major component in creating the scenes in the audience’s mind. Using an accented dialog is a huge risk even for professionals, as Kevin Costner found out when he tried to play Robin Hood opposite Sean Connery’s King Richard. However, it works well in this production.
“We don’t have a whole lot to work with here, so we used that to our advantage,” Key said, “and for that I have to tip my hat to our technical director Marc Cutler.” A retired engineer who once built portable linear accelerators, Cutler manages three times the normal sound and lighting cues to create an urgent pace that keeps you watching and listening.
The wind that begins at Lord Arlington’s funeral doesn’t let up all evening, and the ghosts speak in booming voices that seem to come from inside your head.
Rob Slater and Tonja Myers-Slater, a married couple in real life, are more than believable as lovers, especially when she seduces him on a couch in the library.
He plays an upwardly mobile pig farmer as creepy as they come, and her statuesque portrayal of the Black Widow is complex and involving. She commands the stage in triumph in the beginning, making her long and inexorable descent into horrible tragedy at the end gripping and believable.
Just when you need a break from all this gothic darkness, the Ladies from Bridlington, Mabel (Linda Adler) and Dorothy(Mel Finnson), come crashing on stage like cartoons.
They’re funny characters that still fit with the story even though they over-react to everything, including someone’s joke substitution on top of a wedding cake.
Mathew Smith, the Scottish Dr. Shawcross, spent time with a real Scotsman in Bellingham to develop his unique inflection. The only difference between him and the real McCoy is that Smith is easily understood.
“I guess this would get an R rating as a movie,” Key said, “but we’re about taking risks and doing good, solid theater.”
The play opens Friday, October 26 and runs two weekends, 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday October 28 and November 4. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students.