Night Watch

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.

 

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Denise Rogers Mylin and Patrick Cathcart (photo by: Peter Kuo)

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.

 

 

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Kelley Bielewicz and Denise Rogers Mylin (photo by:Peter Kuo)

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.

 

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Denise Rogers Mylin and Heather McCarty (photo by:Peter Kuo)

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.

 

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Walt Osborne (photo by:Peter Kuo)

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.

 

 

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Denise Rogers Mylin and Cindy Starcher (photo by:Peter Kuo)

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.

 

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Chris Hankenson and Sam Vernooy (photo by:Peter Kuo)

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.

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Pippin, On The Right Track

Pippin, the Tony Award-winning 1972 musical from Roger O. Hirson (Bob Fosse also contributed to the libretto) and Stephen Schwartz, opened on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Sarah Nowak directs this dark and groovy coming-of-age pop musical which stars Ian Yue, Gabrielle Rambo, Jason Beil, Danielle Finlay, Tyler Ward, Kathy Buterbaugh, Reneé O’Leary, Bridgette DuBrey, and Jamie Depto and includes the acting talents of Genevieve Aucoin, Caitlin Custer, Tony DelNegro, Kaitlyn Diehl, Lacey Eriksen, Leeia Ferguson, and Kathy Harris. Continue reading “Pippin, On The Right Track”

You Absolutely Need A Girls’ Weekend

Girls’ Weekend, the farcical comedy by Karen Schaeffer, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening (2/22). Don Pruden, who is celebrating his 31st year with CSP, ably directs this delightful romp. Girl’s Weekend stars Lori Ann Johnson, Michelle Opalesky, Kelly Reeves, Cortez Skipper, Gabrielle Rambo, Timothy Sheridan, Ahmed Khan, and Kevin Freel.

What happens when you plan a girls’ weekend with four women in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm with copious amounts of wine? I’ll tell you. It’s a recipe for fun. Secretly add a few more ingredients like a husband, a boyfriend, a drunken townie, a local, pie-loving sheriff, some weed, a few sleeping pills, and stir the pot (no pun intended), and you get a rip-roaring good time!
Continue reading “You Absolutely Need A Girls’ Weekend”

Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Sarah Ruhl’s farce that explores the themes of mortality and how technology can paradoxically unite and isolate us in the digital age, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Directed by Tanya Lazar with the acting talents of Lindsay Brahl, Ray Barto, Marlene Hummel, Cindy Starcher, Sean Kelly, Tricia Sullivan, Meg Barton, and Nicole Pierce, the play won a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play when it premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington D. C. on June 4, 2007. Continue reading “Dead Man’s Cell Phone”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dan Wasserman’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, which premiered on Broadway November 13, 1963 and ran for 82 performances with two revivals (off-Broadway, 1971, and Broadway, 2001) and inspired a film version starring Jack Nicholson, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Brian M. Touchette (It’s A Wonderful Life) is at the helm of this latest CSP production which has become a modern day American classic. Susan Boudreaux (last seen in Murder on Cue) has taken the assistant director’s chair this time out. OFOTCN stars (in order of appearance), Arthur D. Paul, Chis Hankenson, Stephen M. Ashby, Michael D. Peco, Joe Pukatsch, Michelle Opalesky, Shelli Haynes, Kristin Williamson, Alan Harbaugh, Stephen Ross Ashby, Josh Pelikan, Frank Newton, André Wilkins, Matthew Brown, Scott F. Mason, Pete Matthews, Amy Bucco, and Krista Williams.

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The humdrum of an Oregon state mental hospital ward is thrown into chaos when Randle P. McMurphy manages to get himself committed, opting to serve his time “for repeated outbreaks of passion that suggest the possible diagnosis of [a] psychopath” in the institution to avoid hard labor at a work farm. McMurphy believes his sentence will be easier in the hospital, but realizes his error when he clashes with Head Nurse Ratched, a fierce martinet. In defiance, McMurphy takes control of the ward, doing what the medical professionals could not. He inspires a presumed deaf and dumb man to speak, he leads other patients out of introversion, stages a revolt to watch the World Series on TV, and arranges a wild party with booze and floosies. Ratched’s punishment for these transgressions is swift and merciless. This landmark drama highlights the despotic environments in mid-20th century state mental hospitals. Psychiatric medicines had, by then, become part of the treatment plan, but such barbaric practices as electric shock therapy and frontal lobotomies were still practiced, especially in the treatment of violent patients.

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Mason is well-known to CSP audiences both on and off the stage. He’s a fine actor and quite likeable as McMurphy, a crass and sarcastic minor criminal who finds ways to challenge Ratched’s strict authority and encourages an uprising. I was somewhat bemused by the raspy, Popeye-like voice with which Mason chose to portray the character and the unexplained, sporadic physical ailment that seems to plague McMurphy, but despite those things, Mason succeeds in winning the audience over, portraying McMurphy’s warmth, humor, and strength of character as he leads the other patients in revolt.

Ratched (Haynes) is the quintessential villain. The Machiavellian head nurse reigns supreme over the asylum, her own personal island of misfit toys. Haynes’ Ratched plays more subtly at first, her counterfeit compassion slowly dissolving, revealing her manipulative and masochistic nature as she bullies her patients—as well as Dr. Spivey (Matthews)—into submission. Haynes plays the tyrannical nurse to perfection with her artificial smile and stoic demeanor, never retreating, even in the face of McMurphy’s most loathsome taunts and pranks.

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The ensemble group of inmates in this looney bin is exceptional and they are what allows this drama to flow so easily. Character commitment throughout the production is extraordinary and consistently displayed. Arthur D. Paul delivers a touching performance as Chief Bromdon, a Native American who feigns being a deaf mute for years out of fear that he is not big enough to fight the system. Stephen Ross Ashby (Billie Bibbit) is endearing as a stuttering young man who’s spent his entire life wallowing in self-reproach, feeling he’s a disappointment to everyone, desperately seeking his mother’s approval, and who just wants to find someone who’ll love him. Alan Harbaugh (Harding), Frank Newton (Cheswick), André Wilkins (Martini), and Josh Pelikan (Scanlon) make up the core quintet of the asylum (which includes Billie). Their antics deliver huge laughs such as when Martini deals cards to players he’s hallucinated and licks the erotic playing card Randle shows him. Pelikan is just insanely funny as Scanlon. Kristin Williamson is a hoot as Ratched’s timid nursing assistant, garnering giggles with her fearful outbursts. Amy Bucco, Krista Williams, Michelle Opalesky, Michael D. Peco, and Chris Hankenson all deliver solid performances as Candy Starr, Sandy, and Aides Williams, Warren, and Turkle, respectively. Matthew Brown (Buckley), with his shocking crucifixion poses and side-splitting larks, gains the audience’s full attention without uttering a word. Even Stephen M. Ashby, and Joe Pukatsch (Chronic Patients 1 and 2) were quite effective as “chronics,” all their conditions perfectly articulated physically and emotionally.

Brian Touchette does a fine job directing the production, setting a nice pace to keep the action flowing, making great use of the stage, and managing the large cast. Touchette also designed the set, partnering with Scott Mason, Michelle Cullen, and Pete Matthews among others to bring it from concept to reality. The direction CSP took in designing and building the set was refreshingly different from other productions I’ve seen—slightly nightmarish and industrialized versus pristine and antiseptic. Special effects/Pyrotechnics and video imagery are spectacular, kudos to Ray Barto and Peter Kuo. Lighting and costumes are also first rate.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a sobering American drama packaged as a circus side show that has the audience laughing right up to the mind-altering end. The benefits of theater as therapy cannot be overstated. My prescription is a brief stay at the Chapel Street Asylum. A group therapy session with the resident psycho-ceramics (the cracked pots of mankind) is highly recommended. You’d be crazy to miss One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which runs through September 29th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

Murder on Cue

Murder on Cue, an original play by Scott F. Mason premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage last Friday evening. Mason is also at the helm as director for this latest CSP production, which is the theater company’s 55th annual Reneé G. O’Leary FUNdraiser. The play is an homage to the wonderful whodunnit mysteries of the past as well as to the classic Parker Brothers board game, Clue, but also spoofs Newark, Community Theater, and CSP actors/board members with inside jokes and laughs galore. If films such as Murder by Death and Clue (the movie) tickled your funny bone, then you’ll rather enjoy Murder on Cue starring…well, everybody (except, unfortunately, a certain dame), but particularly: Heather McCarty, Walt Osborne, Courtney Lynahan, Zachary Jackson, Patricia Lake, Pete Matthews, Brittany Wilson, Reneé G. O’Leary, and Susan Boudreaux. Of these things, you may be certain, when Scott F. Mason (he prefers the use of the “F” when using his name) writes a play, zaniness, crazy plot twists, bawdy humor, a colorful cast of characters, and a good time are all guaranteed.

 

Walt Osborne as Cleopold Poupon (photo by Peter Kuo)

It’s rather difficult to review this play. Not because it’s bad. It isn’t at all. Murder on Cue is smartly written and wickedly funny with a stellar cast. It’s not because I’m at a loss for words either. I’m not. I’d love to tell you all about this play, but I can’t as it would spoil the fun for you. Oh sure, I could use bold type font and warn you of a SPOILER ALERT! But let’s be honest, most of you would keep reading and spoil the fun for yourselves then regret it. I’m going to save you from yourselves. I will NOT spoil it for you. The butler did it!

 

Heather McCarty as Waddington the housekeeper (photo by Peter Kuo)

I’m kidding. The butler didn’t do it. There is no butler. There is a side-splittingly funny, deaf housekeeper (McCarty) who must read lips to know what is going on. Question: How does a deaf housekeeper know when the doorbell rings? Answer: You’ll have to watch the play to know. As in Clue, a group of strangers gather at a spooky mansion on a stormy night, responding to an invitation from their mysterious hosts, the Parkers. There’s Colonel Poupon…no, wait! Hmm. I am the very model of a modern…Major-General! Major-General Cleopold Poupon (Osborne) who is not only brilliantly funny, but also a talented song and dance man. Sister Pearl Ivory (Lynahan) is a nun who has taken a vow of silence and comically breaks that vow when the lunacy of the other guests undermines her effort and drives Sister Ivory over the edge. Plumber Butch Plump is a loud, obnoxious hyena of a man who cracks awful jokes. Unfortunately (especially for Poupon) jokes aren’t all Plumber Plump cracks. Lady Agatha Peasoup (Lake), Herr E. Grunschwanz (Matthews), Miss Car Lot (Wilson), the curvy, but dumb blonde, and Ms. Ing Boddy (O’Leary) round out the whacky group of guests and garner big laughs. Agatha (Boudreaux), an Alexa wannabe, causes a panic and generates guffaws when she secures the mansion.

 

Courtney Lynahan as Sister Ivory(photo by Peter Kuo)

The guests are gathered in the drawing room, awaiting their mysterious hosts when, suddenly, the lights fail and plunge the mansion into inky blackness. Gunshots ring out in the dark! When the lights come up, there’s a body and a room full of suspects—including you!

 

Reneé O’Leary as Ms. Ing Boddy (photo by Peter Kuo)

Think you know who the killer is? Can you figure it out ahead of the police? This is your chance to be an armchair (or rather theater seat) detective, so grab your fedora and your notebook and check out the usual suspects at Chapel Street Players, but hurry, Murder on Cue runs only until June 16th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

The Memory of Water

The Memory of Water, a comedy by English playwright Shelagh Stephenson that won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Comedy when it premiered at the Hampstead Theater in 1996, has come to the Chapel Street Players stage. Director Kathleen M. Kimber helms this latest CSP production that stars: Susan Boudreaux, Susie Moak, Lori Ann Johnson, and Cyndie Romer. Dave Hastings and Frank Newton round out the talented ensemble cast.

Continue reading “The Memory of Water”

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