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Theater Review: 'I'll Be Back Before Midnight' At Colony Theatre

Leila Dee Dougan |
February 22, 2013 | 9:57 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The cast of "I'll Be Back Before Midnight." Photo by Michael Lamont
The cast of "I'll Be Back Before Midnight." Photo by Michael Lamont
Those old school murder-mysteries that terrified radio listeners during the 1950s found a stage in Peter Colley's comedy-thriller "I'll Be Back Before Midnight." Think Agatha Christie suspense melded with Hitchcock thrills. The "whodunit" production is packed with plot twists so ridiculous, you cannot help but laugh.

Jan (Joanna Strapp) has just been released from the hospital following a nervous breakdown. In order to get her away from the stresses of city living, her husband, Greg (Tyler Pierce) takes her to an old farmhouse in the countryside. Complete with dusty, antique furniture and a loaded shotgun mounted on a nearby wall, this is where all the action takes place.

George (Ron Orbach) is the owner of the house and nearby neighbor, a colorful character with a healthy appetite for drink and an abundance of frightening ghost stories, which tests Jan's already fragile mental state. He recalls a story about the previous tenants, "They would still be here if it weren't for the ghosts," he says, followed by a big-bellied laugh and swig of whiskey.

Soon after the married couple settle in, Greg's manipulative sister, Laura (Kate Mayer), arrives. Jan and Laura do not get along. What's more, there is an awkward sexual undercurrent to the sibling's relationship, which causes amusing tension between the party of three. Shortly after Laura's arrival, strange things begin to happen in the old house, which leads to unimaginable terror, laced with comedy.

The performances are fantastic. It's hard to not pity Jan and suspect everyone around her. While her psychotic episodes often get the better of her, any rational mind would be as terrified and paranoid. One scene sees Jan sitting in the dark, awake with panic in the early hours of the morning. With a shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders, she grips the loaded shotgun, shifty-eyed, waiting for a ghost to appear. Her tangled web of curls perfectly suited to that "patient who just escaped from a psych ward" look about her as thunder and lightening booms in the theatre.

Even though there is only one set (by scenic designer Stephen Gifford), there is excellent use of space by the directors, Peter Colley and David Rose. Whispers float from the rooms upstairs, screams, and creaking doors are audible all over the theater. The audience watches the action from the living room but is invited to the kitchen, the garden, the driveway using music and sound effects. 

The plot is so prepostorous and the deaths so grotesque that between those hair-raising moments you have to chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all. Whether this dramatization is intentional or not the audience is left disgusted at the corpses that begin piling up on stage. Between an erratic wife, a suspicious husband, a dark-humored farmer and a sinister sister-in-law, who will be the last man standing? By the end of the performance the stage is littered with dead bodies. If you're not screaming with fear, you're screaming with laughter.

Reach Staff Writer Leila Dougan here.

"I'll Be Back Before Midnight" plays at the Colony Theatre (555 North Third Street, Burbank, CA) through March 17. Tickets are $20-$42. More information can be found at ColonyTheatre.org.



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