A reporter (Clifford Webb, played by Jeff Robins) is investigating a homicide. A mental patient (Jason Brent, played by Sean Hagerty) went berserk and killed a counselor with a carving knife. This is Clifford's first big story, and he obsesses on it to the point of a nervous breakdown -- almost beyond.
The amusing premise, easy to posit in the abstract but difficult to achieve in the theatre, is that Clifford becomes so concerned with his sources that he starts hearing and even seeing them when they're not there. (Well, in the theatre they were there, pressing ever more closely around the sweating protagonist.) The pressure mounts to the point where Clifford erupts in a frenzy and smashes his wife's nose with a chair, after which he is hauled off to the looney bin, just like Jason. (The last bit proves to be just fantasy, but it was credible enough to bring the evening to a satisfying theatrical climax.)
Eleven actors deftly juggled 23 roles: Clifford's sympathetic wife and Mrs. Hanson, a quacking legal secretary (Elizabeth Summerlin); Clifford's dead father (Don Sheehan), a distant, unforgiving taskmaster; Clifford's daffy mother and Gillian Reid, a dignified but unhelpful hospital administrator (Ann Parker); the overworked, sincere group home director, a secretary, and a rather comical waitress (Judy Alvarez); a judge (at first superficially helpful, then gradually more resistant to Clifford's wheedling) and, in an intense little scene, the dead man's widow (Bettina Sheppard); the defendant's cynical lawyer, a numbskull psychiatrist, and a by turns sympathetic and funny fellow resident of the halfway house (Gregg Mulpagano); the defendant's parole officer, the dead man's son, and another patient (Sebastian Tejeda); Clifford's tough boss and a hospital attendant (Ted Odell); and a poised (but quite ineffectual) priest, a security guard, and another reporter (John Blaylock).
Robins captured the intensity of a 35-year-old reporter working one misstep from the abyss of ``snow stories.'' Hagerty, with few words, made sensible and sympathetic the wigged-out schizophrenic, himself beset by inner voices, that Clifford almost becomes.
Director Clark kept this menagerie of characters focused and on the move. The set (Mary Kay Samouce) comprised only a couple of desks, a bed, and some chairs, with a black backdrop splashed with primary colors, so the other actors could beset Clifford in an angry swarm. The lighting (a potpourri of different-colored ``specials'' on the numerous acting areas), contrary to the usual of its kind, worked, especially in the ``police'' scenes. Sound design (Veryl Clark), mostly moody guitar stylings, was unassuming but effective. Karen Rowland's costume design fit the bill.
One cavil: giving everyone Midwestern accents would have helped the production attain yet a higher level of credibility.
Copyright 1997 John Chatterton
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