“Night Watch” Spellbinding Psychological Drama
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
Theatre 40 has a hit on its’ hands with the Lucille Fletcher’s “Night Watch” directed by Bruce Gray. It is not just a “who done it”; it is a diabolical cat and mouse thriller. “Night Watch” ran on Broadway in 1972 for 121 performances, and also was a film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey. It is in the genre of ‘Gaslight”, "Rear Window”, and “Wait Until Dark”. It will keep you guessing and have you at the edge of your seat until the very end.
The ensemble cast of nine actors was excellent and included Jennifer Lee Laks (Elaine Wheeler), Martin Thompson (John Wheeler), Judy Nazemetz (Helga), Lary Ohlson (Curtis Appleby), Jonathan Medina (Gonzalez), Christine Joelle (Blanche Cooke), David Hunt Stafford (Lieutenant Walker), Leda Siskind (Dr. Tracey Lake), and John Mc Guire (Sam Hoke). All the actors did a very convincing job in their characterizations and were superbly directed by Bruce Gray. The swift direction heightened the drama.
The play was set in New York City in the 1970s and Jeff G. Rack’s set, with its dark foreboding tones of black-gray created the perfect mood for mystery. I was fascinated by a hanging window which served as a focal point. It became a fourth wall in a sense, through which the characters could see across the street into the deserted building. Rack gave us a large, open space for the couple's apartment, which had the feeling of an art gallery or museum in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan. There was a dark brown leather sofa, built in bookcases, a round glass table, with an opening to a large hallway. The walls were adorned with paintings that could have been in a museum.
Insomniac, Elaine Wheeler wanders into the living room and her rather remote husband, John follows. The ensuing discussion gave us insight into Elaine’s problems of the past. Apparently, she had a nervous breakdown. Elaine goes to the window, she sees a dead man across the way in the deserted building. She screams, and the psychological drama unfolds. It was a taut game of chess as the plot points were painstakingly laid down. Check, check mate. The tension between husband and wife is palpable
Jennifer Lee Laks was thoroughly entranced in her role, and she carried the play. The supporting players balanced her to perfection. Elaine's loyal and beautiful nurse-companion, Blanche Cooke tries to calm Elaine down as she gives her a tranquilizer. Elaine insists John call the police to report that she saw a dead man in a wing chair in “the sordid evil building where all the tragic people of the world had lived”. But, the building is empty now, or is it?
Did Elaine imagine what she saw? Or is she again “losing control and back sliding” to that horrible time in California eight years earlier when Karl had been killed in an accident? Who was Karl? There is mention of a dark haired woman, Kaye Banning in connection with the mystery of the past that so unraveled Elaine.
John wants to whisk Elaine off to a clinic in Switzerland as in “get rid of her.” He hires renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Tracey Lake to consult with Elaine. Elaine starts losing it in front of our eyes. The mention and smell of the white freesia flowers can set her off as can a dark long haired wig Blanche shows her. These items jog her memory and her painful past.
Who is out to undo Elaine? Does John want to be rid of her? Is he having an affair with the gorgeous nurse-companion, Blanche Cooke? Christine Joelle gives her Blanche the right shading of innocence and ulterior motive. Lieutenant Walker, a marvelous characterization by David Hunt Stafford who gives us an Archie Bunker type detective is on overload by the many calls by Elaine and he would also be happy to see her shipped off to a clinic in Switzerland. Elaine is clearly unhinged.
The comic relief came from two wonderful characters in Helga, the loyal German housekeeper, who knows some of the personal things going on in the home, and from Curtis Appleby, the energetically fey, nosy neighbor, who writes for the “Tattler”. Nazemetz gives a fine portrayal as the German housekeeper and had a convincing accent which she maintained. Lary Ohlson gave an energetic and fun portrayal as the neighbor.
Who is the dead man and what does he have to do with Elaine? Did Elaine imagine seeing a dead body? Is she insane? Is someone driving her to a breakdown?
You have to see “Night Watch” to find out. I could not have anticipated the ending and was totally surprised. I never would have guessed the twist ending. You will be too. “Night Watch” was totally compelling and I was pulled in up to the very last minute. The ending, though a total surprise, was very satisfying. Someone got away with murder. Lieutenant Walker declared “the case closed” but was it?
“Night Watch” at Beverly Hills’ Theatre 40 runs through February 24th. For show times and tickets, call 310-364-0535. Theatre 40 is at Beverly Hills High School at 241 S. Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills, 90212 in the Reuben Cordova Theatre. There is ample parking in the parking structure.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next classes start in March/April with registration in February. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org