Inspector Davies, left, played by Cook Farmer, questions Howard Holt, played by Allen Schuler (center), and his wife, Karen Holt (right), played by Candy Thomas, in a “Something to Hide,” a thriller playing at The Little Colonel Playhouse.
There is a particular type of British thriller or mystery story-telling format that thrives in community theatre circles: one simple room for a set, a handful of characters struggling to overcome stereotypical expectations, and a few modest twists and turns in the plot just sneaky enough to avoid seeming too predictable to the average theatre-goer. Something to Hide is a good representative sample of this type of material; better than some perhaps, but mostly a less-than-sterling example.
The plot concerns a successful novelist married to a woman who is also his publisher, but who has a mistress on the side. As the play opens, the mistress is about to depart the country house of the novelist, unaware that her fate will be the beginning of a tragic series of events, the unraveling of which will form the remainder of the story.
The mediocrity of the script seems to dull the good senses of the director and cast a bit, although they work hard to summon up some emotional energy and dramatic conflict within the limited confines of the material. There also are attempts at appropriate accents, all arrived at with varying degrees of success. As the married couple, Allen Schuler and Candy Thomas used fairly non-distinct English dialects that lacked specificity, although I suppose one could argue that these were at least never distracting. Tiffany Smith, as the mistress, and Kirsten McDowell, as the maid in the country house, both went in the opposite direction, overdoing more pronounced, if obviously studied, working class accents that could not quite contain each performer’s natural Southern drawl. All four struggled to bring life to their characters, with Mr. Schuler and Ms. Smith managing to build some good momentum and engaging interaction in the second act. To be fair to Ms. Smith and Ms. McDowell, the mistress and the maid are both small roles that offer little to work with, and the latter is saddled with curious comic asides directed to the audience that, while funny, seemed out-of-place in relationship to the play as a whole.
Happily, Cook Farmer enters as the slightly eccentric and underwhelming Inspector Davies.
Mr. Farmer absolutely nails the archetypal character of an ordinary policeman so unimpressive in his detecting that one finds it hard to believe that he could solve anything. But of course, he does, owing as much to luck as skill. Equally effective was Elaine Hackett as the nosy neighbor Miss Cunningham, again essaying with aplomb an all-too-familiar character in the English mystery genre, the prying old maid/widower. Although not of equal importance to the resolution of the story, these two actors, veterans of many local stages, were key to anchoring this production against the tides of indifference.
The whole thing is harmless enough, I suppose. But the lackadaisical pace never allows for genuine tension, and the last, pretty good, plot twist fails to truly surprise in the manner in which it was clearly intended, making for a reasonably engaging comic thriller that never fulfills its promise, despite the solid work of Mr. Farmer.
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