There are pluses and minuses when producing a lesser-known work from a major playwright. On the plus side, it gives an opportunity to put on a production that has a combination of familiarity, yet which the audience has likely not seen before. On the minus side, there is usually a reason why it is a lesser-known work. It requires very skilled hands to be able to overcome the minuses, and to turn a lesser work into a successful production. The Bergen County Players seem to make a practice of doing this, and, with Stephen Sondheim's and George Furth's Getting Away With Murder, they have not only once again succeeded, they have succeeded admirably.
Photo by Michael Smith, copyright 2015 by the Bergen County Players
This is more of a suspense play than a whodunit, as the play starts out a bit, as writer Kurt Vonnegut would say, "unstuck in time", moving from present to past back to present again (pay attention to the date and time projected onto the stage in between scenes). There is more than one murder, and, although the culprit is revealed relatively early on, the key is, as the title says, is whether or not the culprit gets away with it, and, of course how. The main characters are special (and the only) patients of a renowned semi-retired psychiatrist. While the reason they have been chosen is pretty well telegraphed if you want to avoid even minor spoilers, consider avoiding the photo display of the actors downstairs in the lounge. As, mentioned, this is a suspense play, and therefore it is difficult to reveal too much about it without giving the aforementioned spoilers except to acknowledge that there are the expected quota of twists along the way. It is, however, safe to reveal that the main characters get together, introduce themselves, and quickly discover that the doctor has been murdered. They also determine that the murderer is almost certainly one of them, and if the authorities are called in before they figure out who it is, they will all be subject to scrutiny that would be damaging to them. They therefore decide to try to figure out who the culprit is before involving the police. While this is happening, there are a series of flashbacks to what appears to be an unrelated encounter between a young man and a young woman. But, not surprisingly, we discover that there most definitely is a connection.
It is in the portrayal of the characters that director Ellyn Essig shows her deft hand. One of the problems that previous critics have found about Getting Away With Murder is that it tends to read much better than it plays. Part of this is due to a tendency to portray the characters as way over the top. By toning down the excesses, Essig successfully adds a bit of, to use her own term, multi-dimensionality to their personalities, which moves them from pure caricatures to people only slightly more off-kilter than those whom the viewer may have encountered in their own lives. This allows the viewer to look at the characters as people, albeit not terribly likable, rather than cartoonish cut-outs. And by making them more believable, the audience can become involved.
While all the performances by an extremely talented cast are exemplary, a few stand out. Mark Bogosian, as the smooth-talking, amoral, and slightly creepy real estate mogul Gregory Reed, manages to take over the stage every time he speaks. Rachel Alt, as flirty restaurant hostess Dossie Lustig, has a natural gift for comedy, able to elicit laughs with just a bit of body language. Arno Austin, as embittered police detective Dan Gerard, manages to simultaneously convey both an internal sadness and a sense of menace to the audience. And James Lugo, as cagey political consultant Martin Chisholm, plays the character as someone who is just as careful of his own image as he is of his clients'.
Behind the scenes, the show boasts no fewer than two fight coordinators (Dave Arts and Brandon Essig), to handle the action on the stage. And Set Designer Michael Smith needs to be congratulated on making a rather complex set, involving 3 separate rooms in a building undergoing renovation, work almost seamlessly on the small stage of the Little Firehouse Theater. And the lighting, ably designed by Gerard Bourcier, is practically one of the characters.
If you're looking for a deep show that will get you thinking and discussing, well, this isn't it. But if you're looking for a fun evening, you'll find it here, in spades.
Note: There is a posted warning about strobes, loud sound effects, cigarette smoke, violence, and adult language. They are perhaps overstating the case a bit, but if you're sensitive to cigarette smoke, if you are past the first 3 or 4 rows, you won't even be able to detect it. For children, consider it PG-13.
- All performances for "Getting Away With Murder" take place at The Little Firehouse Theatre at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, home to the Bergen County Players since 1949. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm.
- Tickets for "Getting Away With Murder" are $21 for all evening performances, $17 for matinees and can be purchased online at www.bcplayers.org, by calling 201-261-4200 or by visiting the box office at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell during regular box office hours. Visa, Master Card, and American Express are accepted.
- As it has for the past few seasons, BCP continues to offer a "Questions & Artists" (Q&A) discussion following select performances. "Getting Away With Murder" Q&A will take place immediately following the October 30, 2015 performance. Admission is included in the cost of the ticket.
- Advance discount tickets for students age 25 and under with proper ID are available for $14 by phone or walk-up only, and student rush seats can be purchased for $5 (cash only) starting 30 minutes before the curtain at every performance, pending seat availability. There is a limit of one rush ticket per student.
- Parking is free at the Park Avenue municipal lot, across the street, one-half block north of the theatre.