J. P. Priestley
|Adrienne Dolan & David Richardson|
In a 1930s society parlor setting, one high-styled woman in a slinky green dress admits, “I am always fibbing ... It is the secret of my charm.” A young, suave bachelor in tux remarks, “Telling the truth is as dangerous as skidding around the corner at 60” while a red-lipped blonde coyly adds, “What most people tell as the truth is only half the truth.” Six close friends, some married to each other and some related as siblings, gather in their formal evening wear in one couple’s country retreat with no intention of their gossipy chatter taking the devastating turn it does. One casual observation about a simple music box leads the group down a road full of dangerous twists and turns where long-held lies and secrets come to full light, one by one. SF City Theatre Company presents as its second-ever production the deliciously suspenseful, ever-surprising Dangerous Corner by J.P. Priestley, a 1932 British play hated by the London critics but soon adored by audiences worldwide on stage and in a 1934 film version.
Husband and wife Robert and Frieda are hosting this initially auspicious evening as members of their family-owned publishing firm welcome one of their authors, Miss Maude Mockridge, whose book “Sleeping Dog” (as in “Better to let sleeping dogs lie” -- a warning the group will not heed this particular evening) is soon to hit the bookstores. The inquisitive Mockridge (played by Anastasia Durbula with peacock feather in her head of red) gingerly asks about a missing member of this intimate group, Robert’s brother Martin, who took his own life the previous year. Her question introduces a character we will never meet but who will return time and again throughout the evening and will play a large part in the tangled and clandestine relationships that unravel before us. Trying to determine who saw Martin last (and why), figuring out how one friend recognizes the music box another had given Martin (and why the gift had been offered at all), and just sorting out who actually is in love with whom and who is not become the elements of a really juicy whodunit type of story. As the evening progresses, every time the characters and we think the latest shocking revelation is the final one, another corner is turned only to reveal another big lie that is just waiting to be transformed into a truth.
David Acevedo does a fine job of directing a cast that overall pulls off the evening with much aplomb. Each gets to take a turn in being caught in the spider web they have all spun through their many interwoven secrets that somehow have gone unnoticed by the others (or at least have been politely ignored). C.J. Smith is the blustery, somewhat pompous Robert; his slow but steady journey in getting totally snookered is fun to watch. However, his somewhat long pauses and deliberate speech patterns seemed to give the valiant and determined Deborah Joves (playing his wife Freda) some challenge as she several times came in too soon with lines that were a few words too early. Each time she recovers quite well and goes on to give Freda an air of sophisticated superiority that in time loses much of its hardened shell as the evening forces her to open her own Pandora Box.
David Richardson is Robert’s publishing firm co-director Gordon who shows emotions on his sleeve and a tendency to look blankly off to the side while others converse – all wonderful signs of secrets he will later cough up. His much younger wife, Betty, is the dark-lipped, bejeweled Adrienne Dolan who reeks with style, sophistication, and secrets of her own. Bachelor and publishing firm newcomer, Charles, is played by the cocky Lukas Hoag who moves around as if on a movie set and is quick to put others into the witness box while ready to blurt his own hidden truths in blustery style.
But the real joy of the evening is Mary Waterfield’s Olwen, the unmarried, best friend of hostess Betty. With a voice soft and often on the of tonal edge of total vulnerability, she uses her darting, often down-cast eyes with their big white borders to tell volumes of what is going on inside but not always being said aloud. There is dark mystery about her from the opening moments of the play -- one that will not come to full light until deep into the evening’s many unveilings of closeted skeletons.
Henry Sellenthin has created a richly beautiful set that speaks to the period and the social status of J. P. Priestley’s setting. Don Marsh supplies the auditory surroundings of 1930s music as well as needed radio crackles and snaps that increase the authenticity. Carson Duper makes some occasional, curious decisions as Lighting Designer that do not always work as he creates background shadows to highlight one particular character. Likewise, Durand Garcia’s fights scenes look more forced and fake than they should. Overall, Maria Graham’s costumes are individually right out of a lush 1930s movie set of the rich who are so separated from the Depression world around them as they parade in elaborate gowns, pearls and diamonds, and bow-tied tuxedoes. The one exception is a hideous, tight, red gown that Deborah Joves unfortunately has been awarded wearing. It looks more like a robe than an elegant dress and has a round window into her bosom that is almost humorous in nature.
But apart from these few, rather minor production misfits, SF City Theatre Company has done itself well in producing a fast-moving evening that hardly lets its audience members catch their breaths as they hang on turning another melodramatic corner in the twisty, turbulent tale as told by J.P. Priestly.
Rating: 3 E
Dangerous Corners continues through January 24, 2016 by SF City Theatre Company at Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at www.BrownPaperTickets.com or by calling 650-784-5303.