Vicki Paris Goodman
Night Must Fall is not your typical whodunit. The psychological thriller written by Emlyn Williams concentrates less on its outcome’s unpredictability and more on the mindset of its two primary characters. But I didn’t know that, so I watched in spellbound fascination all the while trying to guess the identity of the murderer, only to learn that it is of virtually no consequence in this unusual murder mystery. How delicious is that?
Not to worry. While playing amateur sleuth to no avail, I didn’t miss a thing. And neither did director Sharyn Case’s incredible cast.
This is the Long Beach Playhouse’s Mainstage, after all, where the actors are amateurs. You would never know it.
In Night Must Fall, the wealthy, aging, and decidedly discontented invalid Mrs. Bramson (Harriet C. Whitmyer) creates an atmosphere of gloom at her English country house. Her beautiful but hapless and enigmatic niece Olivia (Erica Farnsworth) contemplates marriage to the earnest Hubert (Cort Huckabone). Meanwhile, housekeeper Mrs. Terrance (Geraldine D. Fuentes) treats Mrs. Bramson with shocking disrespect, and maid Dora (Darya Harris) turns up pregnant.
Dora’s baby has been fathered by a commoner named Dan (Harold Dershimer)– a young man who is summoned to the house to be interrogated by Mrs. Bramson. When the wheelchair-bound old woman is taken in by Dan’s exceptional magnetism and ingratiating manner, the house’s gloom lifts. But no one feels quite safe.
So how tough is it to achieve the demeanor of a psychopathic charmer and maintain the subtlety of facial and verbal expression throughout a two-hour performance? I’d say it’s near impossible, but proved effortless for Dershimer. He was, in a word, brilliant.
Farnsworth is a similarly tough read while her character’s surprising attraction to Dan becomes a source of great interest. The audience can’t help becoming almost voyeuristic, especially during one or two second-act moments of personal confession and vulnerability between Dan and Olivia.
Murder, which does occur in the play, is somehow secondary to the study of the play’s compelling psyches. Dershimer and Farnsworth couldn’t have been more expressive and convincing. And the way the play’s secrets gradually unfold couldn’t be more satisfying.
The beautiful set was designed by Greg Fritsche. Period costumes are by Donna Fritsche.
Other excellent cast members are Bruce Thomas Eason, Marilyn Gibson, and Michael Buss.
Director Case was not only blessed with a superb roster of actors, but Williams’ dialogue exhibits a superior quality not characteristic of most suspense thrillers. Night Must Fall is high drama at its chilling best.
Night Must Fall continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through July 16. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm on some Sundays. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.
Vicki Paris Goodman