Bowie Community Theatre is capping its 50th-anniversary season with a stellar production of Lucille Fletcher's "Night Watch."
Fletcher's British suspense play first appeared on Broadway in 1972, and the following year it became a popular film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey. The play is set in 1972 New York City — the current production ties to 1970s conventions, including Western Union telegrams and incessant cigarette smoking.
In his program notes, director Randy Barth mentions that he considered shifting the play's New York setting and time before ultimately deciding to keep it "firmly planted" in the play's original setting.
While firmly fixed in a time period four decades ago, the nine-member cast for "Night Watch" gains contemporary relevance with some smart updating.
The story tells of well-to-do John and Elaine Wheeler, whose elegant mid-Manhattan brownstone has a large sitting-room window overlooking a nearby abandoned tenement building. Through this window, modern art collector Elaine sees a dead man seated in a green wing chair. Then later a dead woman in the same chair.
Has Elaine really seen dead people — or is she confused?
She looks for validation from husband John, who confronts the problem logically before dismissing his wife's concerns. He then grows increasingly exasperated at her insistence that he call homicide detectives to substantiate her every sighting.
When validation is not forthcoming from her husband — nor accepted by police officers who may doubt her sanity — Elaine turns to others. Among her confidants are house guest and best friend Blanche Cooke, loyal longtime maid Helga and eccentric neighbor Curtis Appleby, who is fascinated by the Wheelers and by murder itself.
Psychiatrist Tracey Lake, hired by husband John, attempts to gain Elaine's confidence and ascertain the extent of her insomnia and apparent hallucinations. Lake is also convinced Elaine would benefit by a stay at a Swiss clinic that John has chosen.
Rounding out the cast are Patrolman Vanelli, seemingly unimpressed by the Wheelers' wealth, and delicatessen owner Sam Hoke, annoyed at the frequent police presence diminishing his clientele. Characters' interactions build suspense and confusion to keep the audience guessing about reality and motivation.
Barth has assembled an interesting cast to play Fletcher's diverse characters.
As Elaine, Katie Wanschura makes an impressive Bowie theater debut, summoning maladies from insomnia to hysteria along with a contradictory overdependence on her husband. Wanschura's Elaine is convincing in her devotion to Blanche, and manages several surprises as the plot twists and turns.
As John Wheeler, Scott Beadle — a Washington Area Theatre Community Honors award winner — is stellar as the successful businessman confronting problems with cool logic. Initially compassionate toward Elaine, he wearies of her frequent demands that police investigate her repeated sightings.
Blanche Cooke is fully captured by Terra Elaine Vigil-Wynn, convincing as Elaine's compassionate, caring friend — who later reveals emotions leading in other directions.
As Dr. Lake, reliable Bowie favorite Joanne Bauer again fully inhabits a pivotal role.
As the maid Helga, Nina Harris delivers a lively and amusing portrayal filled with disdain for Blanche and John.
Rob Allen returns to Bowie to play Curtis Appleby, injecting needed humor and a mysterious note bordering on weird in his obsessive interest in murder.
The lawmen are memorably played by Ken Kienas, another award-winner who perfectly plays Lieutenant Walker; and John "Jack" Degnan, who is unflappable as Vanelli. Kienas also serves as Bowie Community Theater president.
Production designer Terry Averill creates an entirely credible home of prominent art collectors, complete with believable Picasso and Modigliani replicas adorning the walls. As always, lighting designer Garrett Hyde brings life to the set to reflect time of day and mood of inhabitants. And costume designer Valerie Mikles creates distinctively appropriate garb for the entire cast, most notably for the stately Wanschura's Elaine.
Opening weekend was filled to capacity for this show, which caps Bowie's golden anniversary season. The season has been truly memorable — the group garnered 10 nominations for WATCH awards for its midseason production of "Foxfire" — and won two, for Ryan Ronan's outstanding set design and set painting.
"Night Watch" continues at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, weekends through March 26. For tickets and information call 301-805-0219 or go to BCTTheatre.com.