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The body in the chair

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Theater: "Night Watch"

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Elaine (Jennifer Lee Laks) has had insomnia all her life, so she habitually wanders around the house in the middle of the night. This night, she looks out her front window and SCREAMS!

In rush her husband John (Martin Thompson), her best friend Blanche (Christine Joelle) who is visiting, and the German maid, Helga (Judy Nazemetz).

Elaine tells them she’s seen a dead man sitting in a green wing chair in the window of an apartment across the street. But, of course, when they look, they see nothing. The window shade across the street has been pulled down.

Elaine promptly goes into hysterics, a condition she maintains for most of the rest of the play.

The play is Night Watch, a superb mystery set in 1970’s New York. Its author, Lucille Fletcher, saw the play produced on Broadway and later made into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey. Fletcher is best known, however, for her two classic scripts: Sorry, Wrong Number, which starred Agnes Moorehead on the radio and Barbara Stanwyck in the film, and The Hitchhiker, starring Orson Welles in the radio version and Inger Stevens in the adaptation that was produced for The Twilight Zone.

Night Watch, while a lesser play than the other two, is still an engaging piece of work. It has a satisfying selection of possible murderers, including a next-door neighbor (Lary Ohlson) with a totally phony accent and manner and the deli owner down the street (John McGuire) who sells unappetizing potato salad.

Meanwhile, Elaine, having worked herself up into a shrieking tantrum, insists that John contact the police immediately to tell them about the dead body in the window.

David Hunt Stafford plays the skeptical Police Lieutenant Walker with a broad New Yawk accent, and he is accompanied by Jonathan Medina, his gregarious sidekick. As is to be expected, when the “crime” is investigated, there is no body to be found.

Nevertheless, Elaine continues to call Lieutenant Walker ceaselessly in the next couple of days, making demands and suggestions that finally aggravate him to the point that he won’t take her calls any more. And John and Blanche, worried that she is repeating an episode of insanity that she had undergone eight years earlier, make plans to ship her off to an asylum in Switzerland to recover.

And then Elaine sees another dead body in the apartment across the street. This time it’s a woman.

All the bits and pieces come together at last under the brisk direction of Bruce Gray and in the tastefully furnished apartment setting designed by Jeff G. Rack. And though there are a couple of things left dangling (e.g., who pulled down the shade in the window across the street?), all in all, Night Watch provides an entertaining evening of well-presented suspense.

Night Watch is presented by Theatre 40 in the Reuben Cordoba Theatre on the campus of Beverly Hills High, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, It can be seen Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through February 24th. Call (310) 364-0535 or visit www.theatre40.org for tickets.

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