Arts and Entertainment

Night Watch: Audience sworn to secrecy

Elaine Wheeler, played by Gail Liston, believes she saw a murder oustide of her window. Her husband (Brian Plabenek) consoles her. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Elaine Wheeler, played by Gail Liston, believes she saw a murder oustide of her window. Her husband (Brian Plabenek) consoles her.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

The true terror of the 1973 play “Night Watch” compounds itself in the last few pages of Lucille Fletcher’s script.

Therefore the ending, similar to the “Empire Strikes Back,” must be carefully guarded, director Linda Walbeck said.

“The audience will have to take a vocal oath not to divulge the ending to anyone.”

Thursday night, the “Night Watch” cast delivered a chilly performance of the thriller at Oak Harbor’s Whidbey Playhouse. The play opens Friday, April 3, and continues for a four-weekend run.

Walbeck chose a cast of seasoned actors, including husband and wife Gail Liston (“Guys and Dolls”) and Brian Plebanek (“The Murder Room”).

The play begins with heiress Elaine Wheeler, portrayed by Liston, who is pacing the parlor of her Manhattan home at dawn. She is plagued by recurrent insomnia, based on a tragic event from her past.

Husband John Wheeler (Plebanek) attempts to comfort his anxious wife. But the moment he exits the stage, Elaine lets out a curdling scream. She believes she has seen a dead man sitting in a chair at the apartment across the way.

When the police arrive, they find no trace of a body in the building.

Still unsettled, Elaine remains glued to the window and continues her frequent calls to the police. But after the first apparently false report, they are less than anxious to help her.

John is convinced that Elaine is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as does psychiatrist Dr. Tracey Lake (Julie McNutt). They consider sending her to a sanitarium for treatment.

As the play continues, characters become increasingly suspect and the script’s red herrings give the audience something to cling to as the mystery unravels.

“It’s juicy. The ending just knocks you down,” Plebanek said. “People will shake their heads.”

The script was penned by suspense writer Lucille Fletcher, who wrote radio scripts for such luminaries as Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price.

The strengths in this play include the actors’ portrayal of Fletcher’s characters. In her lead role, Liston successfully conveys Elaine’s overwhelming fear and distress.

“She has so many layers. It’s difficult but interesting as an actor, letting those different aspects come through,” Liston said.

Plebanek is equally convincing, as a man who is pushed the edge by his wife’s mental health problems.

Neighbor Curtis Appleby (Alan Bailey) and maid Helga (Anita Rich) are a needed comic relief as the tension builds. The flamboyant Appleby is prone to randomly entering the Wheeler’s home and, essentially, creeping everyone out.

Although the play is similar to Fletcher’s other works, many elements scream Alfred Hitchcock. It has bits of “Rear Window,” Liston said.

The director also opened with a low-key lighting scheme, for an eerie effect popularized by the “Master of Suspense.”

Walbeck said “it’s the sharpest, most cohesive thing I’ve ever directed,” speaking mostly of her experienced cast. “This is without a doubt, the biggest pool of talent.”

“Night Watch” is fast-paced and the slew of unique characters build more and more questions in the audiences’ mind. And, from experience, it’s no easy case to solve. And the ending is ... well, never mind.

Tickets are on sale now, and can be purchased by calling the box office as 360-679-2237. For further information, show dates, group discounts and reservations email office@whidbeyplayhouse.com, or check the Web site at www.whidbeyplayhouse.com.

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