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Fresh faces are on target in comic 'Shot in the Dark'

Prince George's Little Theatre's production of "A Shot in the Dark" received mention in last week's roundup of coming attractions, but merits a closer look for its excellent treatment of Marc Archard's work, set in 1962 Paris.

This comic play, on stage at Bowie Playhouse, centers on the fate of guileless parlor maid Josefa, the main suspect in the shooting of her dead lover — a Spanish chauffeur who was also employed by the wealthy, well-connected Beurevers family.

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Newly appointed magistrate Paul Sevigne is intent on doing a thorough investigation on his first case but hears a baffling series of confessions from Josefa that suggests her innocence — although Sevigne's associates are convinced she's the perpetrator.

Adapted by Harry Kurnitz from Achard's French play "L'Idiote," "A Shot in the Dark" had a successful run on Broadway in 1961. (A later adaptation become the second of the "Pink Panther" films starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.) Prince George's Little Theatre's revival of this saucy comedy introduces audiences to what The New York Times described as "a light, tasty souffle" that local audiences should savor.

Despite the evidence — Josefa was found unconscious, nude and clutching a gun, with her abusive lover dead beside her — the magistrate becomes increasingly convinced that she's innocent, mainly because she so freely describes her affairs with her chauffeur and employer.

Sevigne ignores all pressure from Josefa's employers as relayed by his boss Lablache, clerk Morestan and Sevigne's young wife, Antoinette. They all counsel him to obtain Josefa's quick confession and conclude the case.

Director Keith Brown delivers a strong production, fully exploiting the cast's talents and garnering surprised laughter at a steady pace. Brown wisely chooses to have all cast members speak naturally, unburdened by French accents. In addition to directing, Brown serves as set designer, with Little Theatre president and show producer Roy Peterson serving as designer of set decoration and painting.

Sound design is done by Dennis Giblin, and lighting design by Garrett Hyde. Fetching, seemingly authentic 1960s Parisian couture for the ladies is designed by Linda Swann, who also furnishes suitable wardrobes for the male cast members.

Together, the members of this talented crew contribute to the professional polish of this rarely produced French comedy, appropriate at this moment when French satire and free speech are in the spotlight.

Action begins with Sevigne assiduously preparing for his first case with veteran clerk Morestan before his preliminary meeting with Lablache to consider his suggestions to expedite the examining proceedings. Sevigne then attempts to question Josefa, who soon tries his patience with her animated testimony.

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Matt Leyendecker debuts at Little Theatre in only his second theater appearance, meeting all challenges of the demanding role of Magistrate Sevigne to become credible as a character inexperienced in his job, yet eager to ensure full justice.

Leyendecker conveys vigorous enthusiasm for firm deliberation, as well as subtle comedic skills in conveying Sevigne's struggle to maintain discipline as Josefa responds to his queries with shocking frankness and contradictory facts.

In her spectacular Little Theatre debut Erica Jureckson as Josefa becomes a unique heroine whose innocence is in contrast to her provocative attraction of male attention and casual sexual advances. Josefa enjoys flaunting her appeal, hoping to improve her lot.

A skilled comedian, Jureckson freely confesses to a series of indiscretions, rapidly changing her stories and feigning confusion while in turn confusing Sevigne, who grows impatient with her animated chatter. Jureckson's lively antics peak as she emulates her Spanish lover's zest for bullfighting with extreme physicality.

As lively as the leads' performances are, the production gains momentum when charismatic actor Brian Binney arrives on the scene cast as Josefa's wealthy employer and lover, Benjamin Beurevers.

Binney creates a fully credible Beurevers, who remains in control of courtroom events despite several incriminating revelations. Happily besotted by Josefa without emotional investment, Binney's Beurevers adds substance and sophistication to the characters' interplay.

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Noteworthy performances are given by veteran actor Danny Brooks, who brings authority with gusto to the character of Lablache, and by equally reliable veteran Martin Hayes as dutiful clerk Morestan, subtly conveying the character's tolerance of French society and amused reaction to Josefa's survival within this milieu.

Mary Koster delivers an exciting portrayal of Dominique Beurevers, and Lea Scherini is credible in her debut as Antoinette Sevigne. Patrick O'Connell marks his debut here as the guard.

Weekend performances of Prince George's Little Theater's production of "A Shot in the Dark" continue at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, through Jan. 24. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students 18 and under, and $13 for groups of 10 or more. Order at the PGLT box office by calling 301-937-PGLT or go to PGLT.org.

'Babar' on stage in Annapolis

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra will present a family concert, "The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant," on Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St.

The classic children's story will be set to music by Francois Poulenc, with narration by toryteller Sara Valentine. Under the direction of Jose-Luis Novo, the orchestra will also perform excerpts of classical favorites including Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake Suite," Bizet's "Carmen" and the familiar "William Tell Overture" by Rossini.

Designed for the entire family, these concerts include an opportunity to meet the musicians during sessions at 1:15 p.m. or at 4:30 p.m.

Family concerts are $12 each in all sections, and are recommended for ages 4 and up. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 410-263-0907 or go to annapolissymphony.org.

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