By Dale King
The stage production of Rick Harlowe’s mystery thriller, Blackoutis back where it all began three decades ago – at the Delray Beach Playhouse.
Harlowe’s whodunit – which meanders into who-might-do-it-again territory – will conclude its three-week run Sunday at the theatrical center on the east shore of Lake Ida. The play actually made its world premiere in that same venue in 1988. Director Randolph DelLago helmed it then and is still on board to do it again.
Commenting in a 1988 newspaper story, DelLago said community theaters don’t normally present original shows “because there’s just no pull. Since we don’t have professional actors or stars, the only thing we really have to offer is the name value of the show.”
This production seems to have a powerful name with first-rate capability to draw, judging by ample audiences and positive reactions. We saw the show on a Wednesday evening, and found the place nearly full.
Blackout takes place in a mansion on an island off the coast of Maine, a location that could easily raise goosebumps with its images of towering evergreens casting scary shadows across rocky shoals and forests, where foliage crunching underfoot could reveal the presence of a person with evil intent.
The mansion is the home of a vindictive, wheelchair-bound matriarch, Greta Wickersham (DBP regular Charlotte Sherman) who mercilessly manipulates those around her. Thirteen years ago, her 5-year-old grandson disappeared in these forests and was found murdered. A stranger passing through was charged with the crime, but the horrid incident hasn’t yet been flushed from the townsfolks’ memories.
In this play, the recent arrival of a mysterious letter threatening another child with harm leads to a series of bizarre plot twists suggestive of a Hitchcock nail-biter.
The main mystery remains hidden in town history and tales that haven’t been told. What is clearly out front is the acrimony between Greta and the mayor, Peter Conroy (Michael Coppola). Also, both seem to have a beef with the police chief, Bill Fitzgerald (Phil Aron). The two families who reside on the island – the Wickershams and the Beauregards – don’t seem to get along either, although their children, Sarah Beauregard (Brooklyn Mackey) and Rosemary Wickersham (Capri Bold) seem fine together.
The action begins to swirl as things that don’t seem to add up begin happening. Sarah and Rosemary decide to camp out by the water one night – and in the morning, Rosemary is gone.
Suspicions immediately falls on the mayor, who swore he had beaten the booze, but went on a bender that evening with Sarah’s mother, Kate Beauregard (Kari Budyk). In the morning, the town discovers he has been in a car accident – just as he had on the night Greta’s grandson was killed. From her wheelchair, she forces him to resign as mayor, tossing a drink in his face and threatening a scandal if he doesn’t. Fitzgerald comes to his boss’s aid, even though the mayor had suspended him.
The action picks up, fistfights break out and Greta whines about the similarity of this night to the evening her grandchild was killed. Taking all of this in is her special-needs son and caretaker, Philip Wickersham (Russell Kerr), who portrays the boy-child with sensitivity.
The discovery of Rosemary’s whereabouts pops the cork on this intensifying pressure cooker, and the finale, while somewhat weak and not terribly surprising, is satisfactory enough.
DBP handles this drama with assurance. An elegant set and scenery that speaks of natural harmony and unnatural fear fill the background.
Sherman, who has portrayed major characters in her more than 20 roles at Delray, has mastered all forms of stage performance. But she is truly adept in mystery, as seen in this and previous shows such as A Talent for Murder, where her character was also confined to a wheelchair
Kerr, portraying a man with limited mental capacity, takes on the toughest role. He marvelously treads the fine line between overacting and caricature. Viewers may find considerable volume in the sounds of his silence.
Another character who’s also a bit too curt is Martha Wickersham, portrayed with fragile presence by Leslie Kandel. Coppola truly revs up the role of a mayor with lots of things to hide. In Blackout, he truly displays his versatility. To date, he has played the comic part of Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple and sung his way through And the World Goes Round.
Delightful whenever she shows up – which at Delray Playhouse is frequent – Budyk is a bit more somber in this show, but just as adept as she was in roles that ran from wacky comedy (a Pigeon sister in The Odd Couple) to intensely dramatic (Other People’s Money).
Aron brings a full-tilt bluster to his role as the police chief, a person who has learned a lot during a life of investigating crime. He obviously knows more than he is telling – an art Aron deftly displays.
Blackout concludes with shows Friday and Saturday at 8 and Saturday and Sunday at 2 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. Tickets may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281.