2/22/2011 - Asheville's Montford Park Players bring British class to Masonic theater
by Jim Cavener
"Asheville, North Carolina is an exciting place to experience the entertainment arts. From West Asheville to Montford, downtown and Biltmore, there are always theatrical performances to catch, both dramatic and comedic." - Ben Falcon
The Montford Park Players are performing two British one-acts at the Masonic Temple on Broadway Street. Pictured are Travis Lowe, far left, Lisa M. Smith, Christopher McLoughlin and Katie Baker prepare for "The Real Inspector Hound." The company is also doing Agatha Christie's "The Patient." / Erin Brethaueremail@example.com
ASHEVILE -- With two British one-acts, by famed playwrights Agatha Christie and Tom Stoppard, the Montford Park Players are settling in to the fine top-floor auditorium of the massive Masonic Temple at the bottom of Broadway Street.
Christie's "The Patient" and Stoppard's "The Real Inspector Hound" have some common threads but some major differences as well. Still, it's a fine mix for a full evening of scintillating theater.
What the two short plays have in common is the fine 20th-century British tradition of murder mystery theater, often set in a dark and brooding, cold and drafty, massive manse in the moors, on a dark and stormy, preferably foggy, night, when the creaky old country house is cut off from the rest of the world by the forces of nature.
The genre is best-served by introducing some suspicious character or characters who bring with them no good, to be sure.
Actually, only the farcical script of Sir Thomas' "Hound" lives up to all the above. Dame Agatha's "Patient" is a compact but clever contrivance of attempted murder that occurs in a city hospital room, with no creaks, no fog, no isolation, no electrical failure, but with a passel of tension, trickery, terror and turbulence before the confusion and conflict are resolved in Christie's usual surprising manner.
Twists and turns abound in both scripts, which provide ample fun for a crisp winter night. Director Mike Coghlan is blessed with a most capable cast, both of zanies for Stoppard's script and simply talented actors for Christie's concoction.
The vehicles call for eight roles in "Hound" and nine in "Patient." Only Heather Johnson as Emmaline Ross in "The Patient" has a single solo character.
When the cast roles have British names, it is fair to assume that the character is from Christie's script. When the character is named some wacky or stereotypical moniker, guess that it is from the Stoppard work.
Of course the totally zany, over- the-top roles get the most notice, and we have several stellar such to appreciate. One is a new talent in our midst. Jane Hallstrom is simply delicious as Mrs. Drudge and does Dr. Ginsberg nicely, as well.
Another loony is Christopher McLoughlin as Lansen and Simon Gascoyne. Way off-the-wall in both cases, and purposely so. Travis Lowe shows his ample talents as Bryan Wingfield and a wacko Birdboot.
Somewhat more sedate is Katie Baker as the voluptuous Cynthia Muldoon then quite sedate as "The Patient." Scott D. Bean is both William Ross and the pompous Maj. Magnus Muldoon.
Trinity Smith is charming as Brenda Jackson and less so as Felicity Cunningham, while Jim Slautich is capable as both police inspectors -- these are British murder mysteries -- Inspector Gray and Inspector Hound. Lisa Smith gives us a lovely, if sur prising, role as a nurse, then as Moon. Guess which author would write a piece with a character named Moon.
With the vast open space in front of the large proscenium arch in this historic auditorium, it is sad that to use this area as a thrust-stage would create sight-line issues for audience members in the long, curved balcony.
Getting around that limitation would give a wonderful immediacy to future stagings.
Jim Cavener reviews theater for The Citizen-Times and take5. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: "The Real Inspector Hound" and "The Patient," by the Montford Park Players.
When: 7:30 p .m. Friday-Saturday.
Where: Asheville Masonic Temple, 80 Broadway St.
Tickets: $15, $12 seniors and students. Call 254-5146 or visit www.montfordparkplayers.org.