When one spends the greater part of their life in a fantasy world, there’s a great chance of slipping over completely and never finding one’s way back to reality. If the character’s that you’ve constructed inside that reality are entertaining enough to keep you there, that is. Bowie Community Theatre brings their 2015/2016 season to a close with Bernard Slade’s An Act of the Imagination. Directed by Patrick Gorirossi, this plot-twisted darkened stage thriller has a great deal of potential to entice an audience with Slade’s wicked good writing and the cameo characters that fill in the space between the pages.
The quaint yet delectably lived-in set immediately casts a charming aura of the mid 1960’s on the outskirts of London upon the audience. Set Designer Roger Paradis, and Set Dressing Trio Brad Eaton, Ken Keinas and Justyne Hughes, articulate the nuances of the cozily furnished living room study of Arthur Putnam, successful mystery and suspense novelist. While it’s no display of weaponry a la Deathtrap or multi-tiered mystery a la Gaslight, Paradis’ set, with the embellishments provided by Eaton, Keinas, and Hughes, add an appropriate hint of ominous existence to the theatrical atmosphere; it creates a sense of things being a little too perfectly settled so as to properly prime the audience for suspenseful twists that might await them around the bend.
Costume Designer Jeane Binney further enhances the feeling of the appropriate locale and period with her subtle nods to the decade in consideration. The soft brown suit of casual composure with cardigan and vest on Arthur speaks to the relaxed gentlemen of his era and Binney’s decision to keep his wife Julia clad in varying patterns of black and white is both a tasteful one and a wise one. The razzle dazzle of the show is presented in the outlandish costumes witnessed on first the Brenda Simmons character and then the Brooke Carmichael character. Distinguishing both of these women as outrageous interruptions to the bubble of existence that’s been constructed inside the Putnam household, Binney’s quirky couture serves its purpose here.
The show’s major issue is its pacing. In addition to a somewhat contagious case of opening-weekend “line-dropsies”, Director Patrick Gorirossi fails to drive the momentum behind the show throughout its run. While it does come in at just over two hours including an intermission there are a great many scenes, especially in the first act that drag on into awkward stretches of existing, and leave you feeling as if a far greater amount of time has passed than actually has gone by. The dry British wit that playwright Bernard Slade has written so snappishly into the dialogue is muddled and lost in the slog of the action, and the suspenseful twists and surprises that fall into place in the second act feel haphazard and clunky because the scenes and character interactions are not clipping along quickly enough. That said, to Gorirossi’s credit, there are a few moments throughout the performance where a nice dramatic tension is crafted between performers, and these happen mostly with Simon, once certain plot-spoiling elements have come unfurled.
The performances throughout the production are somewhat inconsistent. Steve Rosenthal, as Arthur Putnam, is a bit too lost in his internal monologue at times and comes off as too-aloof and out of touch, even for the sake of the character’s quirks. Rosenthal does, however, have a strikingly intense and evocative scene in the second act when he’s waxing nostalgic about the Wimbledon Ball. This moment of deeply connected personal memory radiates through him and really impacts Julia (Kathryn Barrett-Gaines) in that scene.
Barrett-Gaines (at this performance struggling with vocal-volume delivery issues) is a bit on the banal side of the character spectrum, but this perpetuates the loveless and virtually non-existence chemistry between her character and Arthur’s. It makes the arrival of Holly Adams (Lauren Moses) feel perfectly plotted, and actually drives some of the more intense scenes between her character and Simon (Larry Griffin.) Arriving as one of the deeply developed characters, Griffin has a masterful command of his British accent, as does Terry Averill who pops onto the scene as Detective Burchitt. Some of the most authentic and invigorating exchanges in the production come from Griffin and Averill, though never with the pair between each other.
Griffin has a raw temper, particularly when his character loses his cool, and it pulsates through the piece driving his character’s motives with vigor. Averill, whose accent goes toe to toe with Griffin’s, is more of a spunky and almost comedic relief character until things take a drastic turn at the top of the second act. Averill’s facial expressions are particularly poignant when the gravity of the situation falls into place and his body language undergoes a complete transformation that is fascinating to behold, particularly when Rebecca Feibel-Kotraba’s secondary character is brought into the storyline.
Feibel-Kotraba accomplishes the daunting task of constructing two completely fleshed out characters who have very brief on-stage encounters with the other players. Her dedication and commitment to the nuances of these characters, both defining them from each other as well as delineating them from the ordinary players of the show, is impressive. Her overall performance is solid and really captivates the audience, particularly when it comes to her ownership of the space, the way she struts about it as Brenda, or tiptoes about it as Brooke, and her overall sense of mindfulness.
Not without its suspense, An Act of the Imagination has quite a few profound quotes and spine-tingling moments to be enjoyed and there are several performances therein that are most definitely worth enjoying.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
An Act of the Imagination plays through March 20, 2016 at Bowie Community Theatre at The Bowie Playhouse— 16050 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (301) 805-0219 or purchase them online.