Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

I'll Be Back Before Midnight
Stray Dog Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of As You Like It, Shining City and Underneath The Lintel


Jeff Kargus, Sarajane Alverson, and Angela Bubash
Photo by John Lamb
Like any good suspense play, you can't just go around telling people much about the plot. And this is definitely a good suspense play. It gives us just about everything we want: thrills, chills and kills. Under the deft direction of Justin Been, I'll Be Back Before Midnight definitely delivers.

It does bother me (at the end) that the villain goes on another persistent hysterical jag, just like the villain in Stray Dog's 2014 stab-'em-up And Then There Were None. But, somehow, it's not quite as grating this time out, in the last 10 minutes of moderately tedious explanation. Thanks to everything else in the show, I'll Be Back Before Midnight is a very enjoyable night out.

Angela Bubash is excellent as "the young lady with a tenuous grasp on reality," as this sort of character might broadly be known. As Jan Sanderson she's just finished a hospital stay—to treat "a nervous breakdown," as these sort of ailments might broadly be known. In her defense, though, she's generally less overwrought than Julie Harris, for example, in 1963's The Haunting.

And, though it's purely a "type" she's playing (a bit jumpy and needy and given to fearful imaginings), Ms. Bubash makes it all fresh and thoughtful, up-to-date and completely spontaneous. It's a guilty pleasure to follow her through this increasingly dark and disturbing story.

Jeff Kargus is handsome and patient and endearing as "the loving husband" Greg, who's rented a quiet cabin in the country to help Jan complete a recovery. At the outset, it almost seems the pair could go straight into romantic comedy, given their lively charms.

Indeed, the writing by Peter Colley treats the melodramatic elements with a lot of dry humor, and still gives us room for strange imaginings. And that helps build suspense out of nothing, in our inquisitive minds. There's also, usually, a little graveyard chuckle after some recounting of an awful past. And the set by Rob Lippert perfectly evokes a rundown farmhouse, where the worst sorts of things have yet to be forgotten.

Mark Abels is back in overalls (after the recent The Cockfighter at West End Players Guild), but more avuncular, as the farmer across the road—genuinely funny and mysterious in a very unassuming way, as if it swirled up around him, between his dark stories and the strange laughs he inspires.

Sarajane Alverson—and let's assume for a moment that you don't follow local theater; she would be our Tallulah Bankhead, if only she'd smoke and drink a lot more, to get that gravelly deep voice. Here, she almost seems to exist in a totally different play, perhaps Noël Coward's Private Lives, as Mr. Kargus' sister from the big city. When she's not generating suspense on her own, she's scouring the dirty farmhouse walls with a gimlet eye. And there's a very strange bond between the brother and sister, to add to the uneasiness.

Again, I'm not crazy about the epic recapitulation, seen through the murderer's own eyes in the last ten minutes. I'm pretty sure this person also took credit for the disappearance of Judge Crater and the Lindbergh baby, somewhere in that sprawling maniacal epilogue. But this particular killer is also adept at maintaining our interest (or at least our patience), as the playwright ties up every single loose end in sight.

In spite of all that, I'll Be Home Before Midnight (from 1979) proves highly worthwhile, and the applause at the end was loud and sustained.

Through February 20, 2016, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave (63104). For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.

Cast
Jan Sanderson: Angela Bubash
Greg Sanderson: Jeff Kargus
George Willowby: Mark Abels
Laura Sanderson: Sarajane Alverson

Crew
Director: Justin Been
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall


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