Martin Thompson, Jennifer Lee Laks, and Christine Joelle in "Night Watch" at Theatre 40. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Martin Thompson, Jennifer Lee Laks, and Christine Joelle in “Night Watch” at Theatre 40.
(Photo by Ed Krieger)

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 play.

The play is “Night Watch,” a superb mystery set in 1970s 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 Cordova Theatre on the campus of Beverly Hills High, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. It can be seen Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Feb. 24. Call (310) 364-0535 or visit www.theatre40.org for tickets.

 

A robbery is planned

 

A modern-day Simon Legree owns two restaurants and a slew of Laundromats and is making money hand over fist. He doesn’t actually abuse his employees physically — just emotionally. He underpays them, provides no benefits, and continually threatens to fire them.

As played by Vincent Guastaferro, Candy is an over-the-top villain.

And so his employees in the Black River Café plan to rob him.

The plot is introduced by headwaiter Benny (David Fraioli) and is quickly seconded by waitress Nancy (Maria Tomas). The head bartender, Jack (Jonathan Kells Phillips), is a little harder to convince, but when Candy deducts the cost of some broken wine bottles from his pay without warning, Jack agrees to go along with the robbery.

The play is “On the Money” by Kos Kostmayer, an award-winning novelist (“Lost Religion,” “Fargo Burns,” and “Politics of Nowhere”), poet (“Hamlet Sings the National Anthem”), playwright (“The History of Fear”), and screenwriter (“I Love You to Death”).

Kostmayer is reprising “On the Money,” which had its west coast premiere and a nine-month run at The Victory Theater some 30 years ago. It is once again being presented at The Victory Theater Center, and is directed by Tom Ormeny, co-founder and artistic director of the Victory. The set, a nicely stocked bar, is the work of set and lighting designer D Martyn Bookwalter.

The play builds suspense and tension through the fine acting of the three conspirators, most especially Jonathan Kells Phillips, but the ending comes a bit abruptly and has less dramatic impact than it ought to. That’s a chronic problem with many otherwise engaging plays. As Benny says, “The world is full of lunatics.”

“On the Money” can be seen at The Big Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through March 2. Call (818) 841-5422 for tickets.

 

Cynthia Citron can be reached at ccitron@socal.rr.com.

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