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This romanticized Frankenstein story is a shocking musical with a rocking score.

The story of a Bat Boy living in a West Virginia cave — illustrated with a photoshopped baby picture —  amazed America in 1992 when published by Weekly World News, which bills itself as The World’s Only Reliable News. Playwrights Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming shared the popular fascination, and a gothic science fiction began stewing in their minds.
    Five years later, with the help of composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe, their romanticized Frankenstein story — a sort of Edward Scissorhands meets Dracula and Liza Doolittle — became a hit musical with a shocking book and rocking score.
    Now, Beverly van Joolen and Colonial Players shake up staid Annapolis with a five-star production and an all-star cast exultant in pathos, religiosity, hypocrisy and tasteful debauchery.
    Ron Giddings as Bat Boy/Edgar is phenomenal, embodying his character’s mutations with curled extremities, nasal mewling, haunted eyes and adorably creepy ears. Yanked from his subterranean home, he lives like a curiosity with the family of Hope Falls’ veterinarian Dr. Parker (Chris Patton), suspended arms folded from his cage or flitting to the tabletop. Starved for love and blood, he is dependent on the charitable Parkers, who transform him from a bald beast to a civilized boy.
    The virginal missus, Meredith Parker (Wendy Baird), mothers and tutors him as she sings A Home for You, feeding him people food he retches. Meanwhile, the villainous doctor secretly feeds his bloodlust and plots his destruction even as sister Shelley (Paige Miller) learns to love him.
    Despite good intentions, proclaimed in the song Christian Charity, townsfolk are not so accepting.
    Edgar alienated the locals right off the bat by biting young Ruthie Taylor (Emma Panek), who with brothers Rick (Nathan Bowen) and Ron (Corey Jeweler) discovered him in the cave. She’s been languishing in the hospital ever since. There Mrs. Taylor (Alicia Sweeney) croons Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby to her with the comic shrillness of Edith Bunker. Hormone-crazed Rick seethes, in Whatcha Wanna Do?, over Edgar’s place in Shelley’s home and heart.    
    Meanwhile, Edgar’s Pygmalion-like transformation — mastering English with a British accent no less, singing Show You a Thing or Two — proves fantastic and fatal. Sheriff Reynolds (Scott Nichols), Mayor Maggie (Debbie Barber-Eaton) and citizens (Bronwyn van Joolen, Shannon Benil, Sam Cush, Kendra Penn and Shirley Panek) can’t warm up to the freak in formalwear.
    When Edgar crashes a church revival where the Rev. Hightower (Lynn Garretson) raises the roof with Christian love, singing A Joyful Noise, Edgar’s earnest prayer for healing in Let Me Walk Among You is thwarted by Dr. Parker’s slanderous lies. Thus, the Bat Boy becomes the scapegoat for the community’s woes.
    He and Shelley flee to the woods where Pan (John Hamli), sublime in fur and codpiece, presides over their coupling amid an animalistic orgy. His song is Children, Children. The couple quarrel over their future together in Inside Your Heart before her parents discover them and resolve the mystery of Edgar’s history (via a video projection to onstage scrims) to determine the couple’s fate.
    It’s macabre, zany, sweet and ridiculous with rousing tunes like Hold Me, Bat Boy that you’ll continue humming all weekend. The entire cast delivers in this biting social commentary. Miller and Giddings will break your heart with their harmonies and humanity, while Hamli and Garretson astound with their powerhouse vocals. Baird and Bowen display comic genius in their singing and acting roles.
    Colonial’s most technically intensive project to date, Bat Boy employs four types of LED lights, colored strobes, center stage floating projections, fire, smoke, fog, a mirror ball and moving sound. Even the program, in tabloid format, delivers with flashy headlines and bat-themed trivia.
    You’ll have to see this extraordinary two hours and 15 minutes to believe it.
    But don’t take the kids: Content depicts violence, sex and drug use, and special effects are alarming.

Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Erin Miller. Set: Terry Averill. Sound: Wes Bedsworth. Lights: Frank A. Florentine. Costumes: Elizabeth Chapman. Makeup: Eddie Hall. Additional special effects: Keith Norris. Musical accompaniment: Right on Cue Services. Film: Make Your Mark Studios.
 
Playing thru April 19. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

No competition for the Greatest Story Ever Told

After Cain murdered Abel, humanity fell into two factions: the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth. Marked by his misdeeds, Cain’s descendants are greedy and base. They’ve traded their faith in the creator for a life of sin. Lead by the ruthless Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone: Lords of London), the people of Cain have built industrial cities and violated Earth.
    Seth’s descendants have taken a nobler path, living off the land, taking only what they need and upholding the rules of God. Their path is righteous, but it’s not very successful. Tubal-cain and his men have killed the sons of Seth, ensuring that goodness dies with them.
    Or so the evil king thought. Surviving is one last heir, Noah (Russell Crowe: Winter’s Tale), who has lived in hiding after witnessing the murder of his father. Over the years, Noah has built up a family and lived as the creator dictated. His fealty is rewarded with a vision: God will send a great flood to the world, killing all impure life. Noah’s job is to build a vessel and save innocent life from destruction.
    Over 10 years, Noah and his family construct an ark as animals arrive two by two. But the grand migration of fowls and beasts attracts the attention of Tubal-cain, who is on the lookout for land that isn’t ash. On finding the ark, Tubal-cain organizes an army to take it before the water rises.
    Part environmental parable, part Bible story and part bizarre fantasy epic, Noah is a confused, beautiful mess. Don’t expect the Sunday school story that you remember. Director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) gives us stunning visuals and a mixed up story. He has more good ideas than time — or ability — to explore them. The environmental story he begins is forgotten halfway in for CGI technology. Thus Aronofsky falls under the spell of The Watchers, angels who fell to Earth and were punished by having their angelic form covered with rock and molten mud. Neither impressive to look at nor interesting as characters, The Watchers are silly creatures of the type you might enjoy in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
    When Noah pauses from spectacle, it offers some great acting. Crowe — who’s had a questionable run of late — is amazing as a devoted prophet. He imbues Noah with an intensity that teeters on the edge of insanity. As his foil, Winstone’s Tubal-cain believes he is as powerful as God, able to give or take life as he sees fit.
    If you’re interested in a few scenes of interesting Biblical debate or in considering how far computer-rendering technology has come, Noah is worth the price of admission. If you’re looking for deeper meaning, skip a film that wades in shallow waters.

Fair Fantasy • PG-13 • 138 mins.

Can two old geezers find a future past resentment?

For Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, Twin Beach Players reunites the biggest comedy team in Vaudeville for a nostalgic performance of their once-famous Doctor sketch.
    Willie Clark (Jeff Larsen) and Al Lewis (Tom Wines) were the act to catch for 43 years. But 11 years ago, Al walked out, leaving Willie to hold the bag of gags.
    Now, in their golden years, CBS asks them to reunite in a show that pays reverence to the great comic stars through the years. It’s a second chance in a lifetime, but resentment — and tension — get in the way. Clark’s nephew and agent (Tom Weaver) has to figure out a way to get the two geezers to bury the hatchet and pull off the television show.
    Mayhem ensues when Clark ­nearly dies trying. His heart attack keeps the double-trouble duo out of the television show.
    Fate has another plan for them: living together in relative peace and performing their acts in a retired actors’ home.
    Opening night brought not only the old boys but also new comfort to the theater’s small venue at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to Twin Beach master carpenter Justyn Christofel, the audience looks down on the action from moveable-bleachers.
    But play-goers didn’t fill the bleachers or help keep the Sunshine Boys’ uptempo.
    Highlights — like the Doctor sketch rehearsal for a CBS television show and the scene where the boys threaten each other with dagger and cane — bring comic relief to a play slow to take off in Act 1. Act 2 regains momentum as the old boys regain their old timing.

Aidan Davis as Eddie; Staci Most as Vaudeville Nurse; Samantha Wadsworth as Nurse. Director and production designer: Sid Curl. Assistant director and stage manager: Donna Bennett. Costume designer: Dawn Denison. Music designer: Bob Snider. Setting and make-up designer: Wendy Cranford. Lighting tech assistant: Katherine Willham. Lighting and sound board operator: Camden Raines. Audience design: Richard Keefe Jr. Promotions and advertising: Viv Petersen and Philomena Gorenflo. House management: Lynda Collins and Viv Petersen.
Playing FSa 8pm; Su 3pm thru April 13 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club, North Beach. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

See it, and Shakespeare lives

Shakespeare’s plays are still being performed 400 years after they were created because they were brilliantly written but also because their themes are timeless.
    Not every theater company that takes on Shakespeare can live up to the Bard’s talent and intent, moving beyond the page to vitalize his characters, prose and situations. But when Shakespeare is done well, his stories jump off the page and into our consciousness, demanding our attention and forcing us not just to understand but also to feel what his characters are feeling, and why.
    So it is with Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet. Beautifully realized, stylistically and brilliantly transposed into the current day, this Hamlet is a tour de force, a masterwork for the company. Director and set and sound designer Sally Boyett, the company’s producing artistic director, has earned a reputation for her economical yet transformative use of the Bowie Playhouse stage. This production furthers that reputation. From the huge gilded frames that hang from a dark sky to the sacrifice of a few house seats in favor of a platform that thrusts the actors almost halfway into the audience, this is an impressively aesthetic production.
    Boyett’s haunting and ethereal sound and Paul Collins’ often eerie lighting accompany our journey through Hamlet’s madness and his thirst for revenge. Maggie Cason’s costumes, mostly muted grays but with a touch of blood-red seemingly everywhere, remind us that madness, revenge and betrayal are not only to be found in Shakespeare’s time.
    Of course, none of this matters if the acting and direction do not achieve the same standards, and here both are surpassing. Every one of our community theater actors and directors would benefit from attending at least one of Annapolis Shakespeare’s productions, especially this one, because the dedication and commitment to character, to dialect, to pacing and to clarity are unsurpassed.
    Manu Kumasi’s Hamlet is stellar, the fire and humor coming not just from the staccato delivery of his lines but blasting from his every pore. His physicality seems to envelop the theater, especially when he ascends to the end of that aforementioned platform and with sheer passion imposes his world onto ours, his fiery eyes just feet away from ours, boring directly into us and gripping us with his madness.
    Likewise, Audrey Bertaux brings us an Ophelia whose own tragic fall into madness could have been over the top in less capable hands. Instead, we are drawn into the character’s decline and feel pity for the way Hamlet projects his anger toward his mother onto her.
    Nafeesa Monroe as Gertrude and Paul Edward Hope as Claudius lead the rest of the company, several of whom very effectively play multiple roles. From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Horatio to Polonius and all the rest you read about in school, this is Shakespeare at his best, flying off the pages and brought to life in a production whose superlative whole is far greater than the sum of its very excellent parts.

Producer: Kristen Clippard. Stage manager: Monica Jones. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.
Playing thru April 13. Th 7pm, F 8pm, Sa 2pm & 8pm, Su 3pm at the Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park Park. $24/$20: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

A delightfully demented tale of murder, theft and the service industry

As the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes: The Invisible Woman) believes in offering his guests the best service. In the case of wealthy older women, Gustave’s services include wine, candlelight dinners and himself. The women get a boost in confidence; Gustave gets cash and returning customers.
    Among the hotel staff, Gustave is a legend. Suave, mysterious and unflappable, he runs the hotel with an uncompromising commitment to its patrons. He recites romantic poetry at staff dinners, insists on high standards of conduct for his subordinates, bathes in his favorite cologne and is involved in even the minute details of daily life at the Grand Budapest. This dashing figure enchants Zero (Tony Revolori: Shameless), the hotel’s newest lobby boy. Never one to turn down a fawning admirer, Gustave takes Zero under his wing.
    When one of Gustave’s regular paramours, octogenarian Duchess, drops dead, Gustave and Zero travel to the funeral to pay respects. Hoping for a few thousand dollars from the will, Gustave instead is awarded a priceless painting. Her family is not pleased.
    Police are called, accusations are thrown and the Duchess is eventually discovered to have been poisoned. Son Dmitri (Adrien Brody: Third Person) frames Gustave and sends his henchman (Willem Dafoe: Out of the Furnace) for the painting.
    The Grand Budapest Hotel is a madcap comedy fusing dark violent themes with light quirky sensibilities. In director Wes Anderson’s (Moonrise Kingdom) quirky aesthetic, characters are notoriously nonplussed by the whirlwind of crazy events around them. A severed head is usually a gruesome sight. Put that head in a wicker picnic basket with a ribbon and some festive tissue paper, as Anderson does, and it becomes a macabre joke. Anderson’s sensibility isn’t for everyone, but his world of stylish lunacy is a refreshing change from typical fare.
    As the center of the film’s twisting narrative, Fiennes is a wonder to behold. Dapper even in prison rags and suave to a fault, he’s the Cary Grant of concierges. His manic energy is fascinating as he wrings every bit of charm out of a role that makes him a lecherous jerk.
    Supporting Fiennes is Anderson’s typical cast of character actors, including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Adrian Brody. In small parts, each contributes to the controlled chaos. The standout is Dafoe, who manages to be utterly terrifying and hilarious as he murders his way through the movie.
    Funny, slightly gruesome but always entertaining, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a decadent treat.

Great Dramedy • R • 100 mins.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion

Based on the popular but story-bare video game series, Need for Speed follows racer and mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad). A small-town racer trying to keep his father’s auto shop afloat in a tough economy, Tobey scrapes by winning local street racing competitions. But his monetary problems need a long-term solution.
    Along comes Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper: Fleming), the small-town rich kid who made good. We know Dino is evil because he wears black and sneers at everybody.
    Dino challenges Tobey to a street race using supercars that aren’t street legal. When the race goes south, a friend is barbequed in a crash. Tobey tries to save his friend while Dino, who caused the accident, frames Tobey.
    After two years in prison, Tobey is back. How will he exact vengeance on the man who sent him to prison and caused a car wreck that killed his best friend? By racing him in another illegal street competition.
    Again, you don’t need to be smart to star in your own street-racing movie.
    Need for Speed is guilty of the cardinal action-movie sin: It’s boring. Races are dull, acting uninspired and story pathetic. It’s a failure on every possible level. Director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) has a terrible sense of editing, and his rapid cuts drag out action sequence into mind-numbing eternity.
    A toddler with a set of Matchbox cars could have devised a more complex, plausible and compelling story than writers George and John Gatins.
    Paul emerged from Breaking Bad as one of television’s most promising actors. Here, he gives a performance worthy of a thesaurus of pejorative descriptors. If this performance is indicative of what he’s capable of on the big screen, he had better go running back to LA before pilot season ends.
    You don’t buy a ticket for a movie titled Need for Speed expecting tight plotting or even amazing acting. At best, you’re paying to see some exciting car chases, flashy cars and attractive actors. This one stalls at the gate, delivering boring race footage, terrible acting and a cast who seem to be counting the seconds until Waugh calls cut and puts them out of their misery. Mine continued for two hours and 12 minutes.

Abysmal Action • PG-13 • 132 mins.

Fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.

From the thunderclap of their meeting to their untimely deaths, the power of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other resonates throughout the play, and throughout history.
    So promises Compass Rose Theater in program notes to the youthful production of William Shakespeare’s classic. Yet the thunderclap failed to sound at the play’s pre-opening pay-what-you-can matinee. Blame it on a delayed opening due to technical problems, non-traditional casting or inexperience. Whatever the reason, there was no passion. Passionate debate and sword fights, yes, but passionate kisses, alas, no.
     Seventeen-year-old Ely Pendry, a Compass Rose alum dating back three years to Lost in Yonkers, is the best Romeo I have ever seen. He is fired by the kind of love that transcends reason and leaves you weak in the knees.
    Fourteen-year-old Sydney Maloney as the child-bride Juliet, however, does not yet have the depth of understanding to transcend emotions beyond coquetry, fear and tantrums. Similarly, this promising production feels immature. From the previous show’s recycled set to Friar John’s (Kyle Lynch) forgotten opening monologue and a conspicuous lack of equity players central to the theater’s mission, it left me unmoved. This despite many fine performances.
     In brief: Family tension is palpable from the opening clash in which the Prince of Verona (Brenna Horner) orders Romeo Montague’s father (Lynch) and Juliet Capulet’s father (Dan Reno) to rein in their feud. Romeo and his friends Benvolio (Shaina Higgins) and Mercutio (Emily Kaye Lynn) recklessly crash the Capulets’ party — and the lovers first meet.
    Juliet’s nurse (Renata Plecha), sympathetic in the extreme, arranges for the lovers’ secret marriage. Then Juliet’s kinsman Tybalt (Michael Robinson) kills Mercutio in a duel and is subsequently killed in like fashion by a reluctant Romeo who is banished from Verona, leaving Juliet inconsolable.
    Capulet and Lady Capulet (Maggie Robertson) arrange for her speedy betrothal to the haughty Count Paris (Matt Miller), an elder suitor whom she despises. Thus Friar Laurence (Thomas Hessenauer), who performed her wedding, arranges a fake death to buy time until Romeo can spirit her away from the crypt. Miscommunication results in their serial suicides.
     There is great action and acting in this show. The sword fighting is tight and treacherous. Lynn’s Mercutio sparkles with charisma and energy. Robinson’s Tybalt is a menacing hot head who commands attention. Plecha and Hessenauer bring the wisdom and compassion of age to their nurse and friar characters, and Reno demonstrates a mercurial temperament as Juliet’s father that well explains her fear of displeasing him.
    The period costumes are beautiful and tailored. Of the four women in pants roles — a reversal of the norm in Shakespeare’s time — only Lynn has the hairstyle to pull it off with aplomb, and the Prince looks strangely androgynous. Another disconcerting turn, which is probably accurate for the time and therefore a brilliant decision on the director’s part, is actors in their late 20s playing the parental roles. Do the math and be amazed. There is some music scattered throughout, but inconsistent in period and style.
     Despite the shortcomings, there is still much to enjoy in this blossoming production, not least Pendry and Lynn’s outstanding performances. As a professional show, it earns a B. But as a student project from an educational theater, it’s a real winner.

With Casey Baum as Romeo’s servant and Sydney Knoll as Juliet’s servant. Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Costumes: Julie Bays. Fight director: Casey Kaleba. Lights: Megan Lang. Sound: Kathleen Boidy. Set: Amy Kellet.
Playing thru April 20. Th 7pm, FSa 8pm (Sa April 12 & 19 also 2pm) Su 2pm at Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-980-6662; www.compassrosetheater.org.

You don’t have to be an artist to paint like a master — just a genius

Many have tried to copy Johannes Vermeer’s detailed and fascinating works, but it took a CEO from San Antonio with no artistic training to do it. An electrician and amateur inventor, Tim Jenison is the CEO of the wildly successful video technology company NewTek. He is not, however, a painter.
    Jenison was fascinated with the works of the 17th century painter. Vermeer was an oddity of his time because he didn’t sketch his paintings, instead working oil on canvas to achieve realistic images of Dutch domesticity. No documents survive to reveal Vermeer’s techniques; his process and the formulas for his paints are a mystery lost to the ages.
    To Jenison’s eye, Vermeer’s style resembled a compressed video image: reflecting true light values, showing single point focus and capturing amazing detail. Jenison theorized that Vermeer used a lens and camera obscura setup to get such realism. Using a small mirror and a technique he invented for matching shades, the untrained Jenison was able to create stunningly realistic paintings.
    So it was possible to paint using optics and mirrors. But did Vermeer do it that way?
    To test his theory, Jenison used his optics setup to recreate Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. This wasn’t simply a case of repainting a masterpiece; Jenison was out to prove that Vermeer could have used optics to achieve his results. Jenison visited Vermeer’s home, took measurements of his studio space and got to work.
    He recreated Vermeer’s studio, hiring experts to rebuild every stick of furniture, recreate the light that would have streamed through the windows and sew exact replicas of the clothing of the models. Jenison made his own lens, using techniques that would have been available in the 17th century, hand-polished the optics and learned how to hand-mix oil paints. With all the elements in place, it was time to test his hypothesis.
    A documentary that argues art and technology should be united instead of viewed as separate studies, Tim’s Vermeer is a tribute to inventive minds and determination. Directed by Teller (of magical duo Penn and Teller), the film is a joyful look at the dedication, obsession and ultimate triumph of Jenison and Vermeer. Narrated by Teller’s partner Penn Jillette, the film explores what makes an artist but finds no single answer.
    Capturing Jenison’s tenacity while giving the audience a hefty art history lesson, Teller manages to keep the film light and entertaining. He interviews all the right art historians to make his argument that Jenison’s methods are not only possible but probable.
    The real proof of Jenison’s thesis is his recreation of The Music Lesson. Teller painstakingly documents every exacting step Jenison takes to reach his goal. The commitment is part technology, part madness and all art.
    You’ll need to go to Baltimore or D.C. to catch this documentary, but it’s well worth the trip. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself buying a small mirror and some oil paints after you see it.

Great Documentary • PG-13 • 80 mins.

Liam Neeson texts with a terrorist in this silly but enjoyable drama

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson: The Lego Movie) needs a few belts of liquor before he goes to work in the morning. Marks is an air marshal entrusted with guarding passengers on international flights. He’s afraid of flying and desperate for another drink, but he tries to white-knuckle his way through.
    The one perk of the job is his seat: Apparently air marshals sit in first class and enjoy all the amenities. When his cell phone beeps mid-flight, he expects new orders from his boss. Instead it’s a text from a passenger threatening to kill one person on the plane every 20 minutes until a ransom of $150 million arrives.
    It might be a joke, but Marks has to be sure. He alerts the crew, sets his watch for 20 minutes and looks for who’s making the threats.
    The first body announces the 20-minute mark. Marks is convinced the threat is real, but TSA and Homeland Security suspect Marks himself. With only a flight attendant and fellow passenger to help him, Marks seeks to stop the killing and find the killer. But as he gets closer, the passengers begin to suspect his motives.
    Non-Stop is a ridiculous locked-room thriller with a tenuous grasp on physics and logic. Astoundingly, neither the breach of Newton’s laws nor facts keeps Non-Stop from being an entertaining film.
    Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) makes the most of the confined setting of the film. Every shot reminds you of just how small aircrafts can be, making the whodunit storyline tenser. Well-choreographed fights are staged in claustrophobic plane bathrooms, cabins and aisles.
    There are drawbacks to using text message exchanges to build tension. Texting is a passive form of communication, forcing you to read plot points with an autocorrect feature. It’s hard to make texting riveting, and the movie feels silly when Neeson grimaces at his phone, punching keys dramatically.
    As the man who kicked off the so called geri-action genre, Neeson is adept at making the ridiculous entertaining if not believable. Neeson is also a great brawler, rushing his opponents and throwing rapid, brutal punches. His dramatic training lets him give gravitas to even the silliest lines of dialog. Mark Wahlberg couldn’t get away with saying “I’m not hijacking this plane! I’m trying to save it!”
    This fun but mindless action would be great to catch on a plane.

Good Action • PG-13 • 106 mins.

The playwrights did it.

The theater darkens. Ominous, deep, suspenseful music oozes around us. Shadows rise. A hooded figure attacks. Bowie Community Theater’s latest, Dark Passages, begins.
    A good whodunit requires tight writing, staging and pacing, all to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
    In this modern take on the murder suspense mystery, the cast works hard to rise above a script that gives us little more than we’ve already seen in movies, plays and episodes of Castle.
    Playwrights Shannon Michael Dow, Jan Henson Dow and Robert Schroeder have put together a script that is sometimes funny, sometimes involving. But its constant and obvious efforts to keep us guessing about whodunit ironically sap the play of the suspense that ought to be at its core.
    Are we on the edge of our seats? No. Are we curious? Yes, about whodunit of course, but also about why a script set in the present day of voice mail and texts relies on an early-1990s’ era cassette tape telephone answering machine as a plot point. Or why the choice was made to hang a working clock on the wall to remind us of the real time — around 8:30pm, for example, when the program tells us the scene we’re watching is set on “a weekday afternoon.”
    Quibbles aside, Bowie Community Theater’s production provides us an entertaining evening, with some compelling characters and some clever, two-level staging that allows the action to flow effectively.
    Set in an upstate New York college town, the mystery begins when several young women go missing. We are introduced to Sandy (Chrisshall Daniel), a graduate assistant to professor Mark (Pat Reynolds). Sandy is first to be taken away, in the dark of her apartment by a black-hooded intruder. Mark’s girlfriend Bret (Amanda Magoffin) moves into the vacated apartment run by creepy landlord Harold (Scott Beadle). Across the hall is neighbor Eric (Matt Leyendecker), whose loud banging is explained away as him working on his art, though the box he moves it in is roughly the size of a coffin.
    We also meet oversexed Gillian (Lenora Spahn), a friend of Bret’s just back from Europe and looking at males like a dog in heat. Will she be next? Will Bret? Detective Russell (James McDaniel) is there to investigate. Or is he?
    Meanwhile, Bret and Mark are having their problems. It turns out the professor was having an affair with the missing Sandy. Eric rejects Gillian’s advances. More ominous music, another attack … another woman goes missing. The plot turns again. 
    Whodunit is revealed at the end, of course, after several more twists. The likeable cast has turned in a solid performance. We rise, not from the edge of our seats but from deep within, that ominous music serenading us as we exit, wondering how this talented group might have fared with a script that asks more of them and us.

Directed by John Nunemaker. Producer: Taylor Kidd. Stage manager: Bernadette Arvidson. Sound designer: Dan Caughran. Set designer: Gerard Williams. Lighting designer: Garrett Hyde.

Playing thru March 16. FSa 8pm, Su 2pm at White Marsh Playhouse, Bowie. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219; www.bctheatre.com.