A wife thinks she’s going crazy. Sound familiar?
Because this plot device is overused in countless thrillers, any mystery produced in the millennium must give us something new — anything to stand out — to maintain interest.
However, “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at Stray Dog Theatre in St. Louis, is way past its expiration date. The 1979 play is poorly written by Peter Colley, who amateurishly borrowed from everybody — smidgeon of Poe, sprinkling of Agatha Christie and heaping amounts of Hitchcock.
Maybe we’ve become jaded with a plethora of horror movies employing the line “I’ll be back,” which often is a foreshadowing of impending doom. But the dialogue is snicker-worthy.
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Oh, how I wish they had played it for laughs, in the manner of “Clue” or the campy works Stray Dog has done extremely well. I’ve seen this play referred to as a “comic thriller,” and in this production, the tone is straight melodrama and the acting hammy at some points. So an injection of comedy or camp would have been as welcome as an oasis in the desert.
If it’s supposed to be cheesy, then have some fun with it! Unintentionally, it’s reminiscent of SNL parodies.
Director Justin Been has a good cast of thoroughly likable performers who have excelled many times. The four gamely do what they can, investing in their characters. But they were saddled with such tired cliches that I was embarrassed for them, especially in the big reveal scene. The elements seemed very disjointed.
Jan, a sweet, sensitive woman recovering from a breakdown, is played by Angela Bubash without the histrionics that would make this really over the top. Good decision.
Jeff Kargus and Sarajane Alverson, who injected last year’s “And Then There Were None” with some sizzle, play brother-and-sister Greg and Laura Sanderson. Do they have ulterior motives? Or our suspicions for naught? What are they hiding?
Aw-shucks handyman George is capably handled by Mark Abels, good at playing folksy. His country character has some quirks, like the rest do, so pay attention.
Scenic designer Rob Lippert has masterfully created a rural farmhouse that has seen better days, well-lit by Tyler Duenow. Those guys know how to set a mood, as director Been usually does, too. His background music choices are always on point.
Eileen Engel, one of the local ace costumers, has some modern casual fashions mixed in. So, I was confused about the time period, especially with the landline phone — no cells — and a percolator for coffee.
The time period wouldn’t matter if this disappointing show hadn’t been so stale.
“I’ll Be Back Before Midnight”
- What: Performances by Stray Dog Theatre
- When: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 20
- Where: The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave, St. Louis
- Information: www.straydogtheatre.org or 314-865-1995