Night Watch, the suspense drama written by Lucille Fletcher, opened on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Susie Moak directs this thriller which stars Denise Rogers Mylin, Patrick Cathcart, Heather McCarty, Sam VerNooy, Walt Osborne, Kelly Bielewicz, Chris Hankenson, Cindy Starcher, and Bill Potter.
Plagued by insomnia, Elaine Wheeler (Mylin) chain smokes cigarettes and paces the living room of her Manhattan townhouse, troubled by vague fears and unsettling memories from the past. Her husband, John (Cathcart), tries to comfort her, but when he steps away for a moment, Elaine lets out a blood-curdling scream. John rushes back into the room to find Elaine terrified and trembling. Elaine tells John she saw the body of a dead man in a window of the vacant building across the way, but when John looks, he sees nothing. The police are called to investigate but find only an empty chair, the years’ thick layer of dust in the old tenement is undisturbed. Did Elaine see a murdered man or was it a hallucination? Elaine’s obsessive behavior regarding the body she thought she saw, her gross fascination with the mysterious vacant building, and Elaine’s repeated “cry wolf” calls to the police, prompts John to call in famed psychiatrist, Dr. Tracey Lake (Starcher). John is convinced his wife is on the verge of a mental breakdown. Lake agrees with John’s suggestion that Elaine should commit herself to a sanitarium in Switzerland for treatment. When Elaine claims she sees another body—this time a woman’s—her terror grows, but by now the police are skeptical and pay no attention to her hysterical claims. John, Dr. Lake, Elaine’s old friend and house guest, Blanche Cooke (Bielewicz); Curtis Appleby (Osborne), the inquisitive and rather flamboyant next-door neighbor; and Helga (McCarty), the nosy German housekeeper—all contribute to the intensifying suspense as the play draws near its chilling climax.
Denise Rogers Mylin delivers a compelling performance as obsessive, possibly delusional heiress, Elaine Wheeler, a woman on the edge. Has she really seen two dead bodies, or has she imagined it all? What other secrets lie locked in her mind?
John Wheeler, the doting husband, is a strong character, well-played by Patrick Cathcart, who puts up with his wife’s hysterical antics. As Elaine’s suspicions intensify, John’s frustrations escalate. Their two personalities clash making for riveting dramatic moments.
Heather McCarty deftly brings some comic relief to the stage as Helga, the suspicious, unapologetic, eavesdropping German housekeeper. Helga is loyal to Elaine and despises Blanche, often making snide comments and rendering an icy look of contempt before uttering a “hmpf’ and storming off.
Kelly Bielewicz delivers a stellar performance as Blanche, Elaine’s supposed best friend who happens to be a nurse and who helped Elaine recover after a nervous breakdown years earlier following the tragic death of Elaine’s first husband and his mistress. We never really believe Blanche is a devoted friend to Elaine. Blanche certainly seems to have ulterior motives as she practically forces Elaine to take her pills.
Walt Osborne is brilliant as Appleby, the eccentric and flamboyant neighbor who lets himself in at all hours and who has a new hobby—murder! With his foppish dress, over the top mannerisms, and comical stares, he absolutely steals whatever scene he’s in. Appleby is odd, a little creepy, but hilariously funny. Walt plays the character in such a way that you suspect he’s up to something, but you’re never quite sure what.
Cindy Starcher is wonderfully convincing as Dr. Tracey Lake; a psychiatrist John has contacted to help him commit his wife. Starcher opted to don a less prim and proper look for the character than called for in the script, but it worked well with the mysterious theme and mood of the play. Is Dr. Lake really a doctor? Is she part of a plot by John to get rid of his wife, to lock her away in some sanitarium?
Chris Hankenson brings the hard-core police investigator, Lieutenant Walker, to life quite ably. Walker is gruff and quickly becomes annoyed with Elaine’s prolonged fascination with murders that seemingly never happened and with her repeated frantic calls.
Sam VerNooy is charming as quirky Patrolman Vanelli, a beat cop with a fascination for fine art that seems oddly out of place.
Bill Potter plays the deli owner (known for the worst potato salad in town), Sam Hoke, with conviction. He’s another suspicious and idiosyncratic character. I half expected him to be unmasked as the villain, spouting “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
Susie Moak has waited for years to direct Night Watch. The passion she has for the play certainly shows in her direction. Also, hats off to stage manager, Michelle Cullen. This production of Fletcher’s work is first-rate. Ray Barto outdid himself on his stunning set design. Bill Fellner, Brian Touchette, and Peter Kuo deserve kudos for outstanding sound and lighting design. Finally, compliments to Ann Matthews and the cast for the fabulous costumes.
In the best tradition of Hitchcock (think Dial “M” for Murder and Rear Window), this cleverly devised thriller builds steadily in menace and suspense until the final, breath-stopping moment of its surprise ending. Night Watch runs through September 21st. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.