We all have shadows, secrets that we don’t want to admit to others. And when those shadows creep through darkened windows into the unsuspecting lives of those around us things can get dark and twisted. A dramatic thriller takes the stage at the Bowie Playhouse as the Bowie Community Theatre presents Dark Passages. Directed as a collaborative whole by the Bowie Community Theatre Board of Directors, this well-written suspense play will keep you guessing about who is truly to blame right up until the final confession.
Sound Designer Dan Caughran unfortunately cheats the show out of a great deal of atmospheric distress and suspense with his sporadic use of chilling music to underscore various scenes and scene changes. The music that Caughran does use in those edgy moments heightens the feeling of unease as something drastic is about to happen but it becomes painfully obvious when those moments of music are absent. Using more of this music to cover the scene changes, especially as a few of them tend to land on the side of lengthy, would have made the show not only feel quicker but hold those moments of suspense over longer so that they carried from scene to scene.
Set Designer Gerard Williams, working with Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde, come together to create a few good tricks for moments of thrilling disturbance during the show. The two-way mirror is their most successful attempt at creating an off-kilter atmosphere inside the studio apartment. With Hyde’s delicate lighting against this shadowy two-way pane of glass the creepy ‘eyes in the wall’ can be present at the most unsuspecting of times.
There are scene changes, as mentioned, that did drag and slow the pacing of the show on the whole. There were also scenes that took a great deal of effort to keep moving in the first act. That said, the second act moved much more swiftly, having gained a great deal of momentum as it raced toward its suspenseful conclusion. Playwrights Shannon Michal Dow, Jan Henson Dow, and Robert Schroeder craft the artful element of thrilling suspense into each little plot turn, creating characters that are both highly suspicious and yet seemingly innocent simultaneously. It is fascinating to realize each of these characters for their subtle nuances and sharply honed motives, trying to place them into the mysterious puzzle of disappearance and murder.
The biggest struggle with the production’s pacing in the first act is the line delivery. The main character, Bret (Amanda Magoffin) has one speed for her speech, which is often too fast. She speeds through her lines, which creates the problem of not being able to hear them fully. This also creates pauses with the other characters in scene with her as they have to jump into their own line delivery much sooner than seems expected. Magoffin does do an exceptional job, however, of breaking down into emotional hysterics as the play becomes more terrifying toward the conclusion.
Stealing the show with her saucy and sultry antics is Gillian (Lenora Spahn). Exuding sexuality and sassy sensuality with every step she takes, Spahn is a sizzling sexpot in this production. Whether she’s casually trying to learn the details of Bret’s love life or salaciously attempting to seduce Mark (Pat Reynolds) there is something sinfully scintillating about her portrayal that leaves all eyes glued on her and her thoroughly developed character.
Reynolds as the quick-to-temper graduate professor is one of the most grounded performers in the production. His focused presence when in high-tension scenes makes following his character easy. The versatility that he provides the character as more is revealed about him is also impressive, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat guessing.
Other notable performances include the disturbing landlord Harold Lemb (played by Scott Beadle) and the mysterious neighbor across the hall Eric (Matt Leyendecker). Beadle creates a nervous disposition in his character’s physicality as well as his speech’s cadence. It’s Leyendecker’s enigmatic personality that drives the suspicious neighbor character into a curious series of situations that make him suspiciously innocent.
The writing in the production is truly beautiful and well worth a look if you are looking for suspense and thrills in this bleak midwinter theatre season.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
Dark Passages plays through March 16, 2014 at Bowie Community Theatre—The Bowie Playhouse – White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.