A well-acted psychological thriller has its West Coast premiere in Carmel.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
DeadCertain, the MPC Players production currently running at Carmel''s Carl Cherry Center, is a psychological thriller along the lines of the highly popular Sleuth and Deathtrap. In this talky, two character play, the audience is led through a maze of manipulation as one trap after another is set and sprung.
Elizabeth is a wealthy, budding playwright who hires Michael, a possibly talented but unknown actor, to come to her country house to read her new play and give her feedback. As the evening unfolds, it becomes apparent that Michael was not a chance hire but Elizabeth''s carefully chosen victim. Elizabeth drives him to make choice after choice, and both Michael and the audience are asked to consider whether his actions are taken of his own free will, or are somehow his destiny.
This is the West Coast premiere of Dead Certain, written by British physicist-turned-playwright Marcus Lloyd in 1997. It is Lloyd''s first play, and it has all the earmarks of one, though at least the first play of a very promising writer.
While the first act is certainly strong--clever, tightly plotted and with interesting twists and psychological gambits--the second act turns clumsy and stretches credibility. Rather than leaving us stunned with a shattering final twist, the curtain closes to the audience''s exclamation "That''s it?!" (Literally. On the evening I saw the show, two separate audience members exclaimed the phrase quite loudly.)
The two actors generally rise to the task of shouldering the play to its finish line. Carol Daly as the disabled Elizabeth bonds with her wheelchair as if she were born to it (which, thank heavens, she was not). Daly''s physical characterization shows an impressive awareness and attention to detail. With every gesture, she reveals her character''s dancer''s past, yet maintains the reality of a woman paralyzed from the waist down with an eerie exactness.
Where Daly stumbles is in other aspects of her portrayal. Rarely does she simply speak her lines with directness and honesty, but instead falls into a mannered delivery that at times becomes so cloyingly musical it obscures the meaning of the text.
Michael is played to great effect by James Brady. Brady is, perhaps, the opposite of Daly: Though physically somewhat of a stretch for the role, emotionally he is right on target. He is able to find a strength and intelligence in Michael that nevertheless allows for the flaws in his character that open him up to Elizabeth''s manipulation. Brady has some very good moments in some very difficult scenes. When he thinks he has unlocked Elizabeth''s little secret, his boyish ebullience barely covers his desperate need to hear that she is an ardent fan of his acting.
Director Conrad Selvig has encouraged a lovely connection between his actors. This and the fluid pace of the show work to highlight the strong points of the text while almost masking its weaknesses. Though not likely to set the theatrical world on fire, Dead Certain is an entertaining psychological diversion for these lengthening fall evenings.
Dead Certain is at the Carl Cherry Center through Sept. 28. 626-6796.