by Shirley Lorraine
Ojai Theater relives opening
The Ojai Art Center is recognized state-wide as being the oldest continually operating non-profit Art Center. Let’s face it, 80 years is a long time to engage the community in all forms of art, music, theater, dance and more. To celebrate and honor this longevity, the Art Center Theater has mounted a reprise production of the first play ever to grace the Art Center stage – Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams.
Set in the English countryside in 1939, the psychological thriller is at once understated and complex. In other words, typically British.
Opening the action with a monologue, the role of Lord Chief Justice is played by a different member of the community every performance. What a nice way to include community leaders in the anniversary celebration.
A woman goes missing which becomes the talk of the town. The Manor’s mistress, Mrs. Bramson, is a wheelchair-bound cranky busybody. Surrounding her are a snappy Cockney cook, a nurse, a naïve young maid and an unhappy poetry-writing niece and her suitor. Enter the maid’s paramour who enchants Mrs. Bramson and settles in, to the disdain of almost everyone.
All the while the murder is still to be solved and everyone is a suspect. When the body is found in the manor’s rubbish, the local inspector arrives to question each, and the fun really begins. All the characters who live in and enter the Manor are decidedly unique and definitive in their characters.
Mrs. Bramson, played by Sindy McKay, is a crafty, controlling old woman. McKay leads the audience into her world with aplomb. She is frequently confronted by her outspoken cook, Laura Ring. The innocent Dora, the maid, is given just the right touch by Brett Baxter. Stoic Nurse Libby is given dimension by Denise Heller. The wary niece, Olivia, played by Angelica Smith, is a study to watch as her emotions are subtle yet easily readable.
Stephen Shareaux does a nice turn as Hubert, Olivia’s consistently rejected suitor. Louis Graham as the formidable Inspector Belsize is just right in the role. The quirky character of Dan, the uninvited guest who stayed, is wonderfully manic. David Nelson Taylor takes on the role with fervor.
As the play unfolds, the audience is treated to many possibilities of how it happened and who did it. There are surprises along the way as well as twists and turns, as there should be in a good murder mystery. Director Richard Camp has assembled a strong cast to perform this memorable play.
Authentic period setting of the manor’s interior is enhanced by spot-on costuming by Tracey Williams Sutton.
As a well-needed bonus, the theater now has new theater seats, a new sound and light booth (no longer in the back of the audience seating) and other small but noticeable improvements. The Arts Center thanks the community for their generosity in making these alterations possible. What a terrific way to say thank you for the last 80 years, and a grand welcome to the next 80.
Night Must Fall runs through March 10. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. General admission $25, senior and art center members, $20, under age 25 $10. Season tickets are now available for purchase. Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery, Ojai. www.ojaiact.org or (805) 640-8797 for reservations.113Night Must Fall” runs through March 10. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2.m For tickets, call 805-640-8797 or go to OjaiAct.org. The Ojai Art Center Theater is at 113 S. Montgomery St.