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.