It can be taxing and uncomfortable watching a character implode from mental illness, but there’s enough levity and genuine creepiness to ease the blow as evidenced in the Dayton Theatre Guild’s satisfying production of Lucille Fletcher’s 1972 suspense “Night Watch.”
Inside her New York townhouse, the wealthy and extremely unnerved insomniac Elaine Wheeler (a terrifically distraught Debra Strauss) is at her wits end having adamantly believed she’s seen the dead bodies of a man and woman from a nearby tenement building. Prone to fits of unsettled frenzy, Elaine, emotionally scarred from the memories of her first marriage and miscarriage, simply cannot cope with the thought of death in plain sight so close to home. Her supportive yet conniving husband John (a very sly David Shough) continually tries to calm and reassure her but to no avail. However, is Elaine truly unstable? Is her delusional state part of a bigger strategy? Is she merely being taken advantage of by those seeking to lock her away under the assumption she’s losing her mind? These questions are just a few which linger and provoke, fueling Fletcher’s intriguing guessing game. Best known for writing the 1943 radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number,” Fletcher, whose film adaptation of “Night Watch” was released in 1973 starring Elizabeth Taylor, exasperatingly pads this tale with nervous breakdown overkill in Act 1. Nonetheless, she enjoyably raises the stakes in Act 2 with twists and turns that may leave you gasping with shock and delight.
Under the direction of Saul Caplan, occasionally inserting a moody, cinematic underscore to heighten the mystery, the cohesive cast delivers commendable work. Strauss, passionately befuddled and bewildered, brings to heart the agony of a woman at war with herself while relishing the pleasure of matters not always appearing as they seem. Shough, recently memorable at the Guild in “The Columnist,” completely embodies the frustration derived from watching an ill spouse on a dangerous down spiral. Lorin Dineen offers a wonderfully vivid Guild debut as Elaine’s shady best friend Blanche Cook. Rick Flynn, another plus from “The Columnist,” is a pleasantly upbeat Curtis Appleby. Julie Hauwiller, no-nonsense and dubious, is totally grounded as dutiful German housekeeper Helga. Cynthia Karns, in a welcomed return to the Guild, brings inquisitive, supportive earnestness to her gentle portrayal of Dr. Tracey Lake. Dave Nickel, overflowing with blustery agitation, is a fittingly angered Lieutenant Walker who has had enough of Elaine’s constant, hysteric calls to his department. Richard Young (proprietor Sam Hoke) and Andre Tomlinson (Matisse-adoring police officer Vanelli) also appealingly hit the mark in featured roles.
Additionally, Caplan’s artistic team includes scenic designer Fred Blumenthal, costumer Linda Sellers (attractively capturing the essence of the early 1970s specifically for Strauss and Dineen), lighting designer Tony Fende, and sound designer K.L. Storer.
“Night Watch” continues through Jan. 24 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Act One: 55 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $13 for students. For tickets or more info, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org
THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL
Need a good laugh? Make a mad dash to the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center to see Dare to Defy Productions’ hilariously entertaining production of composer David Nehls and librettist Betsy Kelso’s irreverent 2005 Off-Broadway satire “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”
Spiritedly directed by Matthew Smith, the raunchy, jaw-dropping “Trailer Park” cleverly spoofs the ins and outs of trashy living while also examining the importance of self-esteem and embracing acceptance within a community. Inside North Florida’s Armadillo Acres mobile home park, the nearly 20-year marriage between tollbooth collector Norbert and his agoraphobic wife Jeannie (who hasn’t stepped outside her trailer in nearly 20 years) is turned upside down when sexy stripper Pippi (and I don’t mean Longstocking) moves in next door to escape her ex-boyfriend Duke. As this love triangle evolves, a funny Greek chorus (recalling the R&B trio from “Little Shop of Horrors”) complements the action with engaging sass.
Angie Thacker and Rob Willoughby, authentically compatible, bring sincerity and charm to the insecure Jeannie and the endearingly foolish Norbert, a couple you root for in spite of Norbert’s infidelity. Thacker, effectively conveying Jeannie’s fear and trepidation, notably offers a heartfelt rendition of “Flushed Down the Pipes.” As Pippi, powerful pop vocalist Lisa Glover effortlessly turns up the heat in “The Buck Stops Here” while solidifying the character as a confident, tough young woman one might consider an underdog but never a pushover. Eric Julian Walker (a humorously vengeful Duke) needs to reevaluate his comedic timing, but his over-the-top urgencies are not a detriment. Tia R. Seay (Betty), Tori Kocher (Linoleum) and Hayley Penchoff (Pickles) are an absolutely crowd-pleasing trio full of feisty spunk. The exuberant Seay, another vocal knockout, specifically makes the most of the kookiness within the “Jerry Springer”-inspired dream sequence “The Great American TV Show” and the toe-tapping, disco-flavored “Storm’s A-Brewin,’” the latter concluding with her high notes amusingly wailed to the hilt atop Pippi’s trailer.
In addition to a colorful set by Willoughby and Entertainment Unlimited Events and character-specific costumes courtesy of Bobby Mitchum and Olivia Dakin, the production features light and sound design by Jason Vogel, properties by Dionne Meyer, and music direction by Lorri Topping who leads a fine four-piece band.
“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” continues through Jan. 16 in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. The production is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com. Patrons are advised the show contains adult language and themes.