Plays live or die by the pacing of the story and the actors that add flesh to the bones of a printed page. Performance anxiety by thespians new and veteran can lead to rushed lines that can bleed the energy out of a monologue as viewers battle to keep up with the barrage of words at the cost of meaning and purpose. Silence is not always bad on stage. A strategically placed pause or a longing gaze out the window during a play can add more than any words could.
Such is the case with Tacoma Little Theatre’s current production of “Night Watch” by Lucille Fletcher and directed by Randy Clark. Since there are no sword fights, drawn-out brawls, car chases or even a dead body to distract viewers, the play relies only on the words spoken by the nine actors who walk on and off the stage as the play unfolds.
Weighing in at two hours long, the pacing of the show requires a delicate dance. If the actors are too slow at delivering their lines, modern audiences will get antsy and shift under the tonnage of words trickling down upon them. But if actors rush the lines in efforts to dash through the pages and pages and pages and pages of words, the clock is happy but their performances suffer.
“Night Watch” falls into the latter camp. It tells the story of Elaine Wheeler (played by Nicole Locket) who starts the show with a scream after seeing a dead body across the street. Her husband John (Gabriel McClelland) calls the police, who find nothing. Thus begins a parade of Elaine seeing things no one else can as she teeters on the edge of a breakdown. Toss in some side stories that will not be mentioned in an effort to preserve the suspense of this story, think “Gaslight” and “Beauty Queen of Leenane” for you thriller lovers, and you get the idea of the show.
While cutting lines here and there to buy time for more dramatic pacing would have caused some trickle-down issues for the story and stretching out the play to almost three hours would have made it an epic for many attention deficit disorder-afflicted theatergoers, something more should have been done to save the actors from speed reciting their lines.
Proof of this came from Jenifer Rifenbery’s performance as Elaine’s best friend. She has an otherwise small role in terms of on the matrix of lines-delivered-on-stage compared to the leads, but each word was delivered with the right dash of personality. Rounding out the cast was John Pfaffe as the stereotypical homicide detective, Joe Grant as the nosey neighbor, Susan Mayeno as the psychiatrist, Robert Osborn as the butcher, Charles Reccardo as the patrol officer and Ziggy Devan as the maid.
There are a lot of subtle twists and turns along the route so the actors have plenty of material to work through, but much of the play is lost with the machine-gun delivery of many of the lines. Everything else in the show was top drawer. The set, designed by Burton Yuen and dressed by Becca Heines, was amazing in its efforts to recreate an upscale New York apartment straight from the early 1970s. The checkerboard floor and partially translucent back wall create a space that looks deeper than the otherwise shallow stage.
Overall, the show was well acted, superbly staged and effectively lighted. Just the pacing needed work to carry the play to the next level of entertainment. It is well worth a look.
“Night Watch” runs at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through Nov. 11. More information is available at www.tacomalittletheatre.com or by calling (253) 272-2281. The theater is located at 210 N. ‘I’ St. Tickets are $12.50 to $24.50.