"Night Must Fall" at Georgia Ensemble Theatre, October 24, 2019 - November 10, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Emlyn Williams’ "Night Must Fall" is an odd kind of thriller. We know almost immediately who is under suspicion for a murder, and the play is one long delay until the killer strikes again. True, there’s a little understated romance thrown in, but there are no sudden twists and turns to make the audience gasp and squirm. Instead, D. Connor McVey’s lighting and Preston Goodson’s sound use extremely artificial effects to manufacture the trappings of suspense. The artificiality is underlined by the scratchy radio clips and 1935-era songs used as introductions to the silent activity starting each scene.
Barrett Doyle’s scenic design also contains artificial, unrealistic elements: the upper sections of the walls consist of translucent, patterned wallpaper, and a couple of paintings extend past the edge of the wall on which they’re hung. Overall, though, the set is attractive, with wood paneling abounding, stairs to an outside door up center, French doors to the sunroom down left, and sere trees outside the room. Benjamin Warren’s props and Emmie Tuttle’s costumes help populate the 1935 setting with old-fashioned touches.
A variety of accents are in effect. We have an Irish bellhop (the smoldering Jonathan Horne), a British housekeeper (the delightfully plainspoken Joanna Daniel), and a New Yawkish nurse (the crisp Eliana Marianes) interacting with the Connecticut residents of New Canaan. The variety can impede understandability of some of the dialogue.
Performances are good in terms of acting skill. Susan Shalhoub Larkin gives us an autocratic matriarch in whose house the action occurs, with Christina Leidel her independent, but compliant niece and Doyle Reynolds a pretty vanilla suitor for the niece. Joe Sykes is officious as a police officer, and Rebecca Botter adds tiny bits of comedy as a maid. They work well as an ensemble under Shannon Eubanks’ direction.
The problem is that we don’t really care much about the characters or feel that unexpected danger is in the offing. The plot creaks along, goosed by lighting and sound effects, but human connections do not seem to be occurring onstage. When a kiss is shared by two characters near the end of the show, it doesn’t seem organic to the production, just a requirement of the plot. The villain of the piece seems so sleazy and unlikeable from the start that it’s just a waiting game to see when he’ll strike.
"Night Must Fall" is being marketed as "an edge-of-your-seat thriller," with an exclamation point. It’s hardly that. Ms. Eubanks has done a competent job of pacing and blocking Georgia Ensemble’s production, but the thrill is gone. There’s a loud, booming sound at one point that startles and inspires gasps, then titters, but it’s a heavy-handed attempt at forcing excitement into a generally workmanlike production.