by Jenni Morin
Creatures of the Night, written and directed by Emily Fitzgerald, challenges the resilience of humanity with an intriguing detective’s mystery. Now playing at The Overtime Theater through March 26, SWALDA’s production provides a brief glimpse into the dark underbelly and psychological warfare crime plays on the fabric of civility.
Creatures of the Night follows Private Investigator Annabelle Valentine and her partner Mike Dandy as they embark on pseudo detective work until Dandy’s old flame, Irene Lerad, comes back in town. Wary of Lerad’s connection to organized crime and her unsavory henchwomen, Valentine takes it upon herself to protect Dandy. The mystery deepens as bodies turn up and Valentine and all those she comes in contact with become entrenched in finding the mastermind criminal behind it all.
True to the playwright’s intent, the clues become obvious in retrospect and the play is a success as a mystery. The soliloquy proves an imperative device throughout the script as Valentine analyzes her situation as well as her own psyche. Her fascination with vampires and darkness serves as a great metaphor for describing how “crime leaks vitality” and the possibilities of the uninhibited mirror those of the immortal. While the “don’t let it break you” mantra at times feels overdramatic, its repetition fortifies the play’s conclusion. One atypical notion that perhaps makes the script more thought provoking, but still feels incongruent and far-reaching, is how evil abandons preying on the weak to systematically break stronger souls and then recruit them for an even more unhinged and dangerously loyal army. This frightening strategy serves as a warning amidst current events, from terrorism recruiting to electing the wrong commander in chief, making the play more relevant than perhaps ever intended.
As Valentine, Sarah Nixon Hemmi dutifully led the cast and provided the most developed character, although eye contact during the soliloquies would have been more engaging. Jay Overton as Joe conquered a formidable role, while Miguel Di Costanzo as Mike Dandy and especially Laura Epstein as Aurore Clement were steadfast and convincing in their portrayals. Deborah Basham-Burns’ Piper Prudeaux was the most natural, as Michele Wisniewski certainly captured creepy along with Chelsea Robertson’s unexplainable Jessop. Abbey Storch as Adele Dixon, Justin Keown as Lt. Jefferson Thomas, and Cristina Rodrigez as Irene Lerad rounded out the cast.
For her first full-length play, Fitzgerald weaves an interesting tale complete with favorite stock characters of the mystery genre. The lighting was much too bright to evoke a sense of noir, which would have been a welcome technical layer in the production. The lack of intermediary music to cover the scene changes, however, was the most noticeable lost opportunity for foreshadowing, elevating the feeling of suspense, and bridging the scenes. The set by Alex H. Coy IV and Chris Champlin was well-plotted, decorated with detail and gave a framework to the production. Even as the pacing was slower than desirable, the relationships between the characters and the mounting mystery propelled the action to a satisfactory ending.
Fitzgerald’s Creatures of the Night offers an entertaining new twist on the villain and hero dichotomy. Although the Overtime production lacked technical elements and truly gripping characters, it questioned some of the basic perceptions of good and evil in an enjoyable rendition of mystery theatre.
Creatures of the Night plays at The Overtime Theater through March 26 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 6; and 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theovertimetheater.org.