JESSICA ELLWOOD (Elaine Wheeler). NIGHT WATCH is Jessica’s fourth production with the Hampton Theatre Company, and she is thrilled to be part of this outstanding cast. Other recent roles include Claire in PROOF, Alice in YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU and Nellie in SUMMER AND SMOKE. She has also appeared on the NFCT stage in productions of ELEEMOSYNARY and WAIT UNTIL DARK and in a Northeast Stage production of AS YOU LIKE IT. An 8th grade English teacher in Southold and soon-to-be licensed reading specialist, Jessica will graduate in May from Dowling’s master’s degree program in Reading and Literacy (thanks to Sarah for arranging rehearsals around her class schedule!). She’d like to thank her husband, Paul, for his unflagging support and encouragement.
LORI ANNE CASDIA (Blanche Cooke). Previous credits include:LEND ME A TENOR (Diana), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (3 years as Mrs. Cratchit), MAN OF LA MANCHA (Maria), THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Sister Margaretta), FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON (Rose Gordon), CABARET (Fraulein Kost), MY FAIR LADY (Mrs. Hopkins et al), THE RADIO SHOW (Dixie Carlyle), TIME TABLE–FIRST WIVES (Eleanor Roosevelt), THE MANDRAKE (Lycrezia), ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (Venus), the Renaissance Fair in Sterling, NY, and children’s theater. Lori Anne was a studio vocalist and vocal arranger for Atlantic Records and has performed and been featured in a variety of venues throughout the tri-state area including Lincoln Center, the Ritz, the Village Gate and the Bottom Line.
WADE KARLIN (Vanelli) is very pleased to be working again with the Hampton Theatre Company, having appeared previously in the company’s productions of THE RAINMAKER and THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA. He has worked frequently with NFCT on such productions as BUS STOP, PICNIC and STALAG 17. Wade is most proud of the the work he did as Eddie in The Theatre Ensemble’s production of Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE, first in Greenport and, a little less than a year later, at the Hawkswell Theatre in Silgo, Ireland. Wade has studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute.
CHRISTOPHER LINN (Curtis Appleby) has performed in theaters all over Long Island in 100+ productions over 35 years. Most recently, he was seen as Detective Troughton in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE at Theatre III, Jaques in AS YOU LIKE IT in Greenport, Gandalf in Southampton Players’ THE HOBBIT, MacDuff in Guild Hall’s production of MACBETH, Paul in TO GILLIAN ON HER 37TH BIRTHDAY in Mattituck and the Narrator in The Sound Symphony’s PETER AND THE WOLF. He gave highly acclaimed performances at Guild Hall as Cervantes/Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA and as George Hay in MOON OVER BUFFALO. Other favorite roles include: Ko-Ko in THE MIKADO, Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost in several productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, John Adams in 1776, George in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, both Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson in different productions of GUYS AND DOLLS and Prospero in THE TEMPEST. Chris has performed in children’s theater and cabaret productions, directed and produced. He was also a proud member of the Blackfriars Traveling Shakespeare Company and can occasionally be seen reading his poetry around the East End. He is delighted to return to HTC, where some may remember him in IT’S ONLY A PLAY, THE CRUCIBLE and PACKOF LIES.
JAMES MACALUSO (Sam Hoke). From a prisoner of war in STALAG 17 to Mr. Van Dam living in an attic with the Frank family, from the mayor of a town in Texas with a house of ill repute to the voice of God, from a cop and friend of Felix and Oscar to, now, the owner of a deli with the worst potato salad in the world. Wow! Isn’t it great to be an actor.
NICK NAPOLITANO (Lieutenant Walker) played a G-Man in HTC’s production of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU last spring. He has also appeared in MEDEA, FIREWALLS, DEATH IN THE FAMILY and GETTING OUT. Nick has also been in three independent films (one good guy and two bad guy roles), NYU and Brooklyn College student films and a corporate industrial. “Great thanks to all of my wonderful teachers and my friends at the Hampton Theatre Company.”
SANDRA POWERS (Dr. Tracey Lake) has long experience in regional theater in California playing such roles as Mrs. Webb in OUR TOWN, Nora in A DOLL’S HOUSE, Bella in ANGEL STREET and Leona in TIME OF THE CUCKOO, among others. She toured as Stephanie in CACTUS FLOWER and Sylvia in TENDER TRAP. Her musical background includes Ruth in WONDERFUL TOWN, Miss Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS and Gloria in DAMN YANKEES. A resident of Bridgehampton, she trained with Sandy Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. This is Sandra’s first production with the Hampton Theatre Company.
MARY-ALYCE VIENNEAU (Helga) has been seen many times with HTC in such roles as Catherine in THE HEIRESS, Truvy in STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Lizzie in THE RAINMAKER and Bea in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Most recently she played Esther in THE PRICE with NFCT in Mattituck. Mary is very excited about working in the new space here in Quogue and to be working with Sarah once again.
LUCILLE FLETCHER (Playwright) began writing with dreams of becoming a novelist, but drifted into playwriting during her early career at CBS. In all she wrote and broadcast more than twenty plays including THE HITCH HIKER and THE SEARCH FOR HENRY LE FEVRE which were performed by Orson Welles on Mercury Radio Theater. Her best known work, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948), began as a radio play starring Agnes Moorehead before becoming the Oscar-nominated film starring Barbara Stanwyck. Ms. Fletcher ultimately returned to the writing of novels and short stories as well as plays, many of which were adapted for the screen. The novel Blindfold became a 1966 film starring Rock Hudson and NIGHT WATCH a successful film for Elizabeth Taylor in 1973. Her short story My Client Curly was adapted first for Radio Theater, then for the movie Once Upon A Time with Cary Grant. Other novels include And Presumed Dead, The Strange Blue Yawl, The Girl In Cabin B54 and Mirror Image.
SARAH HUNNEWELL (Director, Producer) is the Executive Director of the Hampton Theatre Company and has, at various times, produced, directed and acted for the company for the last fifteen years. Favorite directorial forays include last fall’s production of PROOF, SUMMER AND SMOKE, THE RAINMAKER, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, ORPHANS, THE LAST YANKEE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Many thanks to her wonderful cast and crew and, as always, to Jimmy for his help and support.
PETER MARBURY (Set Designer) is the resident set designer for the Hampton Theatre Company. He has managed, on a small budget, to recreate myriad environments including Victorian parlors and Cape Cod beaches. When not creating sets, Peter can be found in his studio, where he busies himself making sculpture. For relaxation, he grows vegetables in his garden.
SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI (Lighting Designer) designed SUMMER AND SMOKE and PROOF for the Hampton Theatre Company as well as the new theater’s lighting system. He has designed lighting for theater, dance and special events in a number of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway and regional venues. He has also worked in film and television as the director of photography. Local design credits include RED HERRING, THE CHERRY ORCHARD, DRACULA, JULIUS CAESAR and MACBETH at the John Drew Theater and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, A WINTER’S TALE and TWELFTH NIGHT for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival. Upcoming productions include LÉOCADIA for the Hampton Theatre Company and HAMLET and MOBY DICK at John Drew Theater.
AMY RITCHINGS (Costume Designer) designs and works in theater, film, and television. She has designed two feature films, including the Tribeca Film Festival contestant “2B Perfectly Honest,” and theater productions with Northern Stage, Luna Stage, NY Theatre Alliance, Hamptons Shakespeare Festival (four seasons), African Globe, John Drew Theater and Twelve Miles West. Amy has also worked on the NBC series “Law & Order SVU” and “Third Watch.” She earned her MFA in costume design at Rutgers University.
JOHN ZALESKI (Stage Manager) is a veteran of backstage tech and set design for over 80 productions, working with numerous theater companies on the East End since the late 80’s. He is pleased to again join the Hampton Theatre Company for this production. “Thank you” to the wonderful cast and crew. Special thanks to Catherine for her support during all these years and, particularly, for NIGHT WATCH where, for the first time, she shares the headset. Q28.6 GO!
KRISTIN SINKEL (Assistant Stage Manager) is thrilled to be working with the Hampton Theatre Company on yet another production. She has appeared both on stage and backstage with HTC and many other local theater groups. Most recently, Kristin was John Zaleski’s assistant on HTC’s production of PROOF. She would like everyone to send good wishes to Michael Disher as he directs his last musical at Southampton College, and especially to Joe Marchese at the John Drew as he battles a brain tumor. We love you Joe!
by Lee Davis
Even though Louise Fletcher wrote her formulaic thriller “Night Watch” in 1972, her heart and mind and plotting skills were obviously still in the 1940s, the decade of her most popular nail-biter, “Sorry, Wrong Number.” The present, deftly mounted production by the Hampton Theatre Company of “Night Watch” looks like, sounds like and is a not unwelcome reminder of a more relaxed and affordable Broadway, when shows didn’t have to be blockbusters to survive.
All of the elements of a B-level mystery are in place in this play: a setting in a posh art gallery of an apartment on the East Side of Manhattan; a terrible, mysterious occurrence; family intrigue; various clues leading to various blind alleys; a woman of mystery; a Noel Coward character; a convenient psychiatrist obligingly suggesting that the poor persecuted person who saw the mysterious occurrence should be shipped off to Switzerland, the land of the numbered psychiatric clinic; various cynical policemen; and a comic maid.
So, great dramatic literature it ain’t. But fun it is—if it’s done well, as it is in the practiced hands of the Hampton Theatre Company, a group whose tastes are usually directed to plays of more than one dimension. This time, their talents are let loose on pulp theater, and they grab it in their teeth and run with it, turning the experience into a lively evening of chills and chuckles.
Director Sarah Hunnewell keeps the action moving briskly through its slalom run of a plot, drawing a rewarding amount of substance from the largely one-note characters Ms. Fletcher has devised. In this sort of play, complex characterization would get in the way of its mechanics. Still, the Hampton Theatre Company players who occupy the stage for more than a few phrases create believable characters about whom it’s possible to care, or at least be interested in.
Those who appear and disappear before uttering much more than a paragraph have to settle for caricature: James Macaluso, as a delicatessen owner and maybe a little more, makes what he can out of a swift walk-on role. Wade Karlin, as an art-appreciating policeman, and Nick Napolitano, as a short-tempered police lieutenant, have a little more stage time, but not much, and fill the space with requisite energy.
Sandra Powers, alas, makes not much of the stock and really badly written character of the psychiatrist who muddles her patients, or at least this particular patient. The fault may well lie more with Ms. Fletcher than with Ms. Powers.
On the other hand, Mary-Alyce Vienneau fairly sings the axiom of “no small parts, just small actors” with her deliciously droll creation of Helga, the sometimes sinister German maid (yet another holdover from the 1940s). Ms. Vienneau makes absolutely the most of every second of her appearances on stage, whether delivering lines with a flawless accent or merely miming a menu of meanings.
And so does Christopher Linn, as an eccentrically fey British neighbor, brought into the play by the playwright for God knows what reason. If it’s comic relief, Mr. Linn provides it with scenery-chewing relish. Whatever—he’s a passing joy.
Lori Anne Casdia is Blanche, the voluptuous girlfriend of Elaine Wheeler, the harried housewife and a serial insomniac, who watches, one night, a possible corpse in a possible chair through her definite window. Blanche, it seems, has been a long-term houseguest in the posh apartment of Elaine and John Wheeler, and Ms. Casdia invests this maybe supportive, maybe destructive character with a nicely balanced mix of sexiness and softness. Ah, but Blanche is also a nurse who’s constantly forcing pills and glasses of water upon Elaine, and you know what that means in the world of pulp mysteries. Ms. Casdia mixes in the air of mystery with a deft, light touch.
Andrew Botsford, as the officious, sometimes supporting, sometimes not, investment banker husband of Elaine, delivers a satisfyingly silken characterization of a man of many questionable motivations. The character—like every other character in the play—comes directly out of central casting, but Mr. Botsford invests him with a refreshing humanity.
The same is true of Jessica Ellwood, as the often hysterical Elaine Wheeler, the possible witness to a possible—you know. Ms. Ellwood delivers a delightfully controlled performance that requires her to walk a razor-thin path between reality and fantasy, a tortured present and a more tortured past. She does it with a naturalness that’s at once embracing and enticing, and which, with Mr. Botsford and Ms. Casdia, goes a long way toward elevating what could have been palpably pedestrian into an evening of crackling, good, mean fun.
In fact, this entire production is presented with the sort of comfortable know-how and quality of presentation that has signaled practically all of the Hampton Theatre Company’s efforts. Peter Marbury has designed an elegant, model East Side apartment, and Sebastian Paczynski has lit it with properly subtle touches of mystery and refinement. Amy Ritchings’s costumes are period storytellers. And John Bachman’s and Tom Leo’s sometimes slightly overabundant sound design is properly sinister.
All in all, this highly skillful and absorbing production of “Night Watch” is—depending upon the character of your conscience—either a guilty or a not guilty pleasure, mindless and scary and harmlessly entertaining.
by Steve Parks
It’s not so much a question of whodunit as who gets done in.
Lucille Fletcher, best known for “Sorry, Wrong Number,” the Oscar-nominated 1948 movie adapted from the Broadway play and its radio antecedent, still was churning out so-called thrillers in 1972 when “Night Watch” premiered.
Hampton Theatre Company director Sarah Hunnewell has wisely set this artifact of the mystery genre back in the late Ms. Fletcher’s heyday, the 1950s, which are resurrected in sumptuous detail on designer Peter Marbury’s opulent drawing-room set.
Jessica Ellwood plays the main character, Elaine Wheeler, as if she were on the edge of what used to be known as a nervous breakdown. Elaine is an insomniac who stays up all night to watch whatever’s going on outside the living-room window of her Manhattan brownstone. This time, her restlessness has awakened hubby John, a Wall Street high-roller played by Andrew Botsford with a condescending irritability we excuse at first as sleepus interruptus.
As John heads for the kitchen to fortify himself with a sandwich, Elaine’s shattering scream summons him back. She claims to have seen a man’s body, blood dripping from his face, sitting in a green wing chair in the abandoned tenement behind their house. But when her husband looks, the window shade in the tenement has been drawn shut. She prevails on him to call the police, who, finding the building empty, scold Mrs. Wheeler for her false report.
Later the same evening, through the miracle of dramaturgy, John manages to find a psychiatrist who makes house calls. Played with a professional distance by Sandra Powers, the shrink recommends an insomnia clinic in Switzerland, which the Wheelers can well afford, judging from their antiques and artwork (conspicuously including a Modigliani).
Elaine’s best friend, Blanche, a nurse who’s staying overnight, concurs. “Think of it as a vacation,” says Blanche, played by Lori Anne Casdia as a confidante who’s dying to spill the beans. John and the nurse-friend suspect that Elaine’s cadaverous sightings (she later sees a dead woman in the same window) result from emotional trauma. Her first husband died suddenly eight years ago and Elaine discovered his body with that of his mistress.
The only one who believes Elaine is Mr. Appleby (an impertinently droll Christopher Linn), the Wheeler’s eccentric gay neighbor who’s probably just appeasing the Mrs. so he can get a peek inside the brownstone. Other shards of comic relief are slung about by Mary-Alyce Vienneau as Helga, an imperious maid with an Eastern European accent.
“Night Watch” might have been an amusing puzzler, except there are too few candidates for murderer and murderee. It’s a Dame Agatha without enough players to ante up the pot and make it boil. Yeah, so we see whodunit, but if The End has any chance at surprise, you and Elaine must stay awake.
by Joan Zandell
If a nineteen-fifties thriller noir is your métier, then Night Watch by Lucille Fletcher, is not to be missed. Ms. Fletcher, best known for her 1948 Oscar nominated film, Sorry Wrong Number, starring Barbara Stanwyck, creates a glamorous setting for this who-dunnit. A world in which nothing is what it seems, and that, as alluring as the externals are, the reality is anything but.
The play opens in an elegant townhouse in Manhattan in the 1950s. The set design by Peter Marbury is stylishly true to life, creating a feeling of affluence and prestige from the moment the lights go up. (You’ll notice the Modigliani and the Cézanne hanging on the walls.) Whereupon we see Elaine Wheeler, a beautiful, elegant young woman in a silk dressing gown eerily smoking a cigarette in the semi-darkness, her figure framed in the German expressionist lighting created by Sebastian Paczynski. She is quietly singing a nursery rhyme to herself. If that isn’t enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, then hang on, as Bette Davis says in All About Eve, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
We learn rather quickly that Mrs. Wheeler is an insomniac who has taken to watching the house across the way when she cannot sleep. Which in and of itself seems hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that all sorts of strange things do start to happen in this otherwise dilapidated building that has fallen into ruin. People are being murdered. A minor detail perhaps, but surprisingly, the dead bodies fail to appear. As fragile as Mrs. Wheeler may be, she insists that she has seen what she has seen. Therefore, the question of the evening becomes, is Mrs. Wheeler going mad or are people really being killed across the way? Stick around, because the fun has just begun.
Actress Jessica Ellwood is terrific as the vulnerable and confused young Mrs. Wheeler. Her performance is reminiscent of Ingrid Bergman’s in Gaslight. She captures the character’s fragility as well as her emotionality. (Both characters also share an early trauma from which they seem never to have fully recovered.) Ms. Ellwood is utterly credible as a woman living on, and about to slip off, the edge.
Her husband, John Wheeler, played by long time veteran of the Hamptons Theatre Company, Andrew Botsford, is the man you’ll love to hate. He is compellingly irritable, impatient, and at moments, downright evil in the way he interacts with what he’d like you to believe is his fluffball of a neurotic trophy wife. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to hiss at him as the evening proceeds. Lori Anne Casdia as Blanche Cooke, Mr. Wheeler’s partner in crime, successfully oozes badgirlness. She is desperately effusive while pretending to be her rival’s best friend.
The supporting cast is excellent and director Sara Hunnewell keeps them moving. There is a not-quite-classic German maid called Helga, played to the hilt by Mary-Alyce Vienneau, a wildly eccentric over the top nosy neighbor played by Christopher Linn, a series of well-educated policemen who appreciate art, a wonderfully Columbo-esque Lieutenant played by newcomer Nick Napolitano, and a chilling psychiatrist played by Sandra Powers. The staging and tempo is so good, you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat to see who pops in the door next.
All in all, get ready for a well-produced and highly entertaining evening. This weekend will be its final performance, so please, for what is clearly the best ticket in town, don’t miss the Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Night Watch.
Gallery images by Tom Kochie