by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Dual Critics took a second trip to Fernandina this year on August 28, to see the final performance of Postmortem, the final show of the 29th season for Fernandina’s Amelia Community Theatre. The trip was the first opportunity we have had to visit their dazzling new theatre, which cost $2.5 million dollars and debuted in February.
This being an after-the-fact review, we won’t go deeply into the plot of this mystery thriller. If you’re familiar with Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap and Ten Little Indians, you’ll have a pretty good idea how the script reads. The play is set in 1922, at the Connecticut castle-like mansion home of William Gillette, who was in fact a real person, a well-known actor, playwright and director in the early part of the last century. Look Gillette up on the internet and you’ll find a fascinating character.
But back to the plot. All Gillette’s invited weekend guests are connected in some way to the Broadway play that he is appearing in as Sherlock Holmes. Gillette hopes to solve the murder of his fiance, which occurred exactly one year ago at the mansion. And while her death was ruled a suicide, Gillette believes that each of his guests could have had a reason to kill her, and is determined to find the killer. Along the way in this two-act, two-hour play we have the usual things we find in murder mysteries set in mansions, like electrical storms, power failures, a seance, heads bashed with candlestick holders, gunshots and some blood, and a little romance tossed in.
The play was written by Ken Ludwig who is well-known to North Florida audiences from other works, like Lend Me A Tenor, Moon over BuffaloLeading Ladies, and The Beaux’ Stratagem. And while Postmortem contains humor, it’s more low-key than that we have come to expect from the farces penned by the talented Mr. Ludwig.
Director/Producer Linda McClane cast the show well with fine performances by everyone. All of the actors were new to us except for Renee LaCroix, a Jacksonville University graduate (2008) who was a charmer as May Dison, the attractive ingenue. Chuck Zsolani was smooth as Leo Barrett, who played the Watson role in the Broadway play. Toni D’Amico played Barrett’s wife and provided much of the humor in this play with her over the top performance. Joe Parker, as Bobby Carlyle, was also a Broadway cast member and the handsome guy has designs on May. Robert M. Weintraub was the leading man, William Gillette, who fashions himself in his personal life as a detective in the mode of Sherlock, even wearing the deerstalker cap and smoking the famous curved pipe. Fran Morris is Aunt Lily, Gillette’s doting aunt. The final character is Louise Parradine, a medium who has come to the house to hold a seance to help uncover the murderer killer. As played by Laura Swain, Louise is a very sexy and mysterious woman.
The set was gorgeous. Walls were a goldenrod yellow, and included wallpapered borders that suggested the stone exterior of the castle, and windows with floor to ceiling drapes. Nail-studded leather furniture and touches like a Victrola and patterned rugs added to the illusion of the castle setting. The light design by Charlie Horton, made good use of the large stage, and created excellent daytime and night time ambiance. The costume designs by Susan Bell included dropped waist dresses, lace, and long strands of pearls, typical of the period.
The new auditorium has 140 seats, stadium style, so that every seat in the house has excellent sight-lines. The lobby is comfortable, spacious and apparently well-engineered since you could carry on a normal conversation despite the large crowd. The adjacent older theatre building will continue to be used for some smaller productions.
Amelia Community Theatre’s 30th season opens September 30 with Our Town, to be followed by Red Herring on November 18. Productions planned for 2011 include Cabaret on February 10, Morning’s At Seven on April 7, The Diary of Ann Frank on June 9, and A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour on August 4.
We suggest making plans to expand your theatre universe and catch a play at this fine community theatre. The theatre is located in downtown Fernandina with lots of free and well-lit parking all around the theatre. It is just a couple of blocks from a number of interesting restaurants. Visit www.AmeliaCommunityTheatre.org. for more information.
POSTMORTEM theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM