Thursday, March 29, 2012
Theater review: The Cat and the Canary at Irving Arts Center
Compliments go to John Willard's script and an exceptional performance by ICT Mainstage.
ICT Mainstage steps back in time to the Roaring '20s to present the ultimate mystery thriller, The Cat and the Canary (playing at Irving Arts Center through April 7). It's a daring production that has you on the edge of your seat as the plot thickens and races to a shocking end you will not see coming. No spoiler alerts here! You'll have to see it to find out who gets the gold, who gets the girl, and whodunit.
Twenty years after the death of the wealthy, solitary Ambrose West, his six eccentric living relatives descend on the old miser's home to attend a reading of his will. At the stroke of midnight, the long awaited announcement of West's sole heir is revealed. Thus begins a series of spooky occurrences and a murderer on the loose.
John Willard's mystery play surpasses that of any Agatha Christie synopsis I have seen and I find this mostly due to ICT Mainstage's excellent production of The Cat and the Canary.
The lighting and sound design immediately set the mood for the dark and stormy night the cast of characters succumb to as the enigmatic plot begins. Sam Nance, Lighting Designer, magnifies his lightning effects on either side of the stage. It's a stunning visual effect when the thunder rolls and the lightning bolts strike. The timing is perfect as the lights on stage go dark with only an eerie back light shining through the set window.
Richard Frohlich's overall sound design is just noticeable because it seamlessly blends into the background. The storm effects are natural and flawless. Frohlich even plays around with a few humorous dramatic pause effects to give a little oomph to some comical moments onstage.
The set design by Jennye James is excitingly three-dimensional, complete with secret passageways and hidden compartments. It's a step above what most designers implement into their sets, and her attention to detail give the show a sense of reality. In keeping with the ghostly plot, James' focal point is an open window with sheer white, floor length drapes that gently blow in the wind, a creepy reminder of the ensuing storm outside and mysterious circumstances.
Costumes, provided by Dallas Costume Shop, easily identify and represent the 1920s. From the low-waisted dresses, Annabelle's fur stole and the men's vintage-style suits and matching hats, the cast's wardrobe is spot on for the era.
Director Michael Serrecchia has put a superb cast of characters together. The Cat and the Canary centers on the ingénue Annabelle West and her five peculiar long distant cousins. Equally important to the plot are two characters closely tied to the deceased Ambrose West - his lawyer and a superstitious housekeeper. Not one actor gets lost in the shuffle of who's who in this multi-faceted cast which is a tribute to DFW's local talent but also to Serrecchia's casting.
Something that makes each character unique is that Serrecchia stresses an array of vocal registers and various paces between each actor. For the women, the creeping movements and the deep, gruff East Indies accent of Miss Pleasant the housekeeper vastly contrasts with that of the high-pitched squeals and dainty composure of cousin Cicily Young. Split among the men is a display of low, medium and high vocal registers, each actor bringing something individual to the role and not getting lost in the crowd.
Serrecchia is a master at creating picturesque scenes with his actors. It is equally entertaining with each scene, whether with two actors or the full cast, to see the assortment of poses and spacing he uses fluidly throughout the show.
In the lead role of Annabelle West, Ashlie Kirkpatrick is reminiscent of a young Debbie Reynolds with such spunk, charm and innocence in her role of the young heiress. Her guileless portrayal is refreshing and she shows an incredible aptitude for connecting with her co-stars onstage.
Shannon Rasmussen as Cicily Young, a bubbly blonde who fully embraces the '20s flapper persona, is fun and adds plenty of personality to the more comedic moments onstage, becoming the reason for many a good laugh during the show.
Rasmussen's onstage counterpart is Trista Wyly as the begrudging busybody Susan Sillsby. Wyly is perfectly cast and lends an excessive amount of dramatic flair to her character. She relishes in the insanity of certain plotlines and is the biggest contributor to a handful of amusing theatrical pauses. Her performance, as over the top as it is, is one of my favorites.
Michelle Mays, as the old housekeeper Miss Pleasant, dons a believable East Indies accent which really shines in her opening dialogue. Mays' height and her creeping manner intensify the mysteriousness of her character and very few times did I see her veer from the character's pace set by Serrecchia.
Opening the show, Dave Schmidt portrays West's lawyer Roger Crosby. Not only does Schmidt truly look the part but he fits the demeanor of the character, such as showing a lack of patience with the potential heirs but mostly in his sense of ownership and pride regarding his lawyer duties. In a short amount of time, Crosby even seems to exude a sort of father-like responsibility over Annabelle which I find endearing.
Michael Speck puts on the perfect murder mystery persona as Harry Blythe. Speck delivers a deep, jovial and haunting laugh that would make the perfect sound bite to use for a scary story. With slicked back hair and a pompous air about him, Speck, like Wyly, is a great fit for this genre.
As Charlie Wilder, Aaron White's performance begins under the radar, almost getting swallowed up by the group, probably since his entrance is second to last. It isn't until White is first alone with Kirkpatrick that he begins to flourish and you see the character's nuances, with a hint of playfulness and slyness, come out. His pursuits over Kirkpatrick are lovable but push the envelope and White handle's the full performance with ease.
Scott Higgins makes the final entrance of the six cousins as Paul Jones, a glass-is-half-empty, nervous young man who can neither make up his mind nor keep his own opinions. Like White, Higgins' character is first at risk of getting lost in the crowd but once pulled aside his performance stands out from the others and becomes a true crowd-pleaser.
Rounding out the cast are John Medaille as Hendricks and William Kledas as Dr. Patterson. Medaille makes a quick entrance as the brash local law enforcement officer on the hunt for an escapee from the insane asylum. He makes a great impersonation and comes across cocky and indignant. An even shorter performance, Kledas is in and out as the town doctor sent to examine and declare Annabelle is or isn't of sound mind. It's a minor scene but Kledas' role is just enough to make you question what is real.
You now have the full cast of characters. So, whodunit? I have to admit, I could not figure it out. I'm the sort of person who either loves to spoil the ending for myself or I try to guess the ending and am usually right. Compliments go to Willard's script and an exceptional performance by ICT Mainstage. The shocking reveal at the end is unforeseeable and downright heart-pumping. You will be on the edge of your seat.
This three act/two intermission show is exactly two hours and appropriate for most ages. As this is partly a murder mystery, parents with young children should be aware of one brief graphic scene at the close of Act II. Regardless, ICT Mainstage has another successful show to add to its repertoire.
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