A mystery with promise

A mysterious woman walks into an opera box at the beginning of Central Alberta Theatre ’s Evelyn Strange and warns: “I don’t want to be rushed…” This line ends up foreshadowing the slow pacing of a production that could take itself less seriously.

A mysterious woman walks into an opera box at the beginning of Central Alberta Theatre ’s Evelyn Strange and warns: “I don’t want to be rushed…”

This line ends up foreshadowing the slow pacing of a production that could take itself less seriously.

Although some things could have gone better at Thursday’s dress rehearsal, I should mention the positives about this promising noirish mystery by Edmonton playwright Stewart Lemoine that’s being staged as a dinner theatre at the Quality Inn North Hill.

It has a talented young cast of local actors, including Nicole Leal in the title role. And it has an original premise — although to reveal much of it would let too many surprises out of the bag.

Suffice it to say that Perry Spangler, a bookish sub-editor at a publishing house, is asked to meet his boss’s wife, Nina Ferrer, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera when his boss can’t make it.

Once Nina (played by Elysha Snider), bails on Wagner’s Siegfried after the first intermission, Perry (Paul Sutherland) gets into a conversation with the other occupant of the opera box. She calls herself Evelyn Strange.

It turns out this striking stranger can’t remember who she is, or what she did earlier that day — which is problematic when the body of a man turns up in Central Park and police are seeking to question someone named Evelyn Strange.

Throw into this scenario a pushy ladies’ man named Lewis Hake, who works with Perry and can’t stop asking awkward questions about his colleague’s new “date,” and you have the makings of a pot-boiler mystery.

Overly-earnest plays set in the 1950s require a certain melodramatic approach. Actors with a heightened delivery can wring wit and humour out of scripted dialogue that might not otherwise come across as terribly funny or clever. (See most Alfred Hitchcock movies).

Director Tara Rorke has instead opted to tackle this production in a dry, naturalistic style. As as a result, long, wordy exchanges between characters often come across as flat and uninspiring.

A solution would be for all the actors to crank it up a notch or two. For instance, Sutherland’s Perry Spangler is supposed to be mild-mannered, but still takes it too much in stride that he’s befriended an amnesiac who might well be a murderer.

Leal is appealing as Evelyn, but in a confused, girl-next-door way, rather than as a potentially dangerous femme fatale — which is the edge her mysterious character requires. Much the same can be said of Ryan Mattila’s portrayal of Lewis Hake. He would benefit from more explosive and unpredictable alpha-male tendencies.

Of the four cast members, Snider comes closest to hitting the mark as Nina Ferrer, who isn’t quite what she seems. Snider brings appropriate emotional tautness to the role, and her scenes have spark.

There’s hope yet for Evelyn Strange. Once the many overlong set changes are resolved (an audience doesn’t need to see whole rooms take shape, sparse set pieces will do), and the actors pick up their pacing and energy levels, this play could live up to the promise suggested by its premise.

While now a diamond in the rough, Evelyn Strange has what it takes to shine. It continues to April 9.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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