ROPEBy Patrick Hamilton
Richardson Theatre Centre
Stage Manager-Stephanie Goudy
Set Design and Construction-Chris Berthelot
Lighting Design- Richard Stephens, Jr.
Sound Design-Rusty Harding
Costumes-Rachael Lindley and Cast
House Manager -Leigh Wyatt Moore
Wyndham Brandon-Joshua Bangle
Charles Granillo -Collin Miller
Rupert Cadell-Rusty Harding
Sir Johnstone Kentley-Budd Mahan
Kenneth Raglan -Thomas McKee
Leila Arden-Julia Kendry
Reviewed Performance: 10/29/2017
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play is, in formal terms, a “well-made play” with a three-act dramatic form. The term refers to a structure which originated in France as the piece bien faite, a style of dramatic writing characterized by careful, purposeful, logical construction. The form contains a number of “conventions”, i.e. the plot is often based on a withheld secret. This is typically something known to the audience but unknown to all the characters. It often also revolves around a letter, or piece of writing that holds the key to the solving of the mystery presented. Both these conventions appear in ROPE and are integral to the development of the plot. A third convention requires that the unraveling of the villain and triumph of the hero occur quickly towards the very conclusion of the drama, again present in this play.
One must also consider the essence of both British drama and comedy. Characters are often “quirky” or unconventional. And there is the juxtaposition between what might seem to the average audience member as inappropriate, as it is presented as quite appropriate in the play. Murder and death may appear as something quite every day and even at times the basis for innuendo and humor
All this makes up this play and Richard Theatre Center makes its production quite British and certainly fitting of the mold of the well-made play. The plot revolves around two university students, Wyndam Brandon, played by Joshua Bangle and Charles Granillo, played by Collin Miller, who have, in the pattern of the thrill killers Loeb and Leopold in the US, murdered one of their well-to-do classmates from University. They don’t like the victim, it’s true, but the two young men consider themselves a cut above in terms of intelligence and daring and view the murder as a project in how to commit the perfect crime. Then, to prove their daring, they invite friends and the victim’s father, Sir Johnstone Kentley, played by Budd Mahan to their apartment for dinner while the body of the dead classmate is inside a chest in the room. Brandon, having just come into possession of a large quantity of books which the classmate’s father desires feverishly to obtain, serves the dinner on the chest as every other square inch of surface in the flat is covered in those tomes. But that is his point. He relishes that juxtaposition while Granillo exhibits increasing nervousness and anxiety as his friend relentlessly pushes the envelope of their unknown crime and the contents of the chest.
The letter, or paper referred to earlier as often a plot point in the well-made play, is actually the theatre ticket Brandon sent to his unsuspecting classmate offering to accompany him along with Granillo. But when they pick him up, he becomes the victim of their plot, succumbing to strangulation by a piece of rope which maintains a presence in the flat as well. Brandon retrieves the ticket and gives it to Granillo to get rid of, but his anxiety is their undoing as it eventually falls into the wrong hands.
The director and cast at Richardson Theatre Center bring this well-made play to life in a tantalizing and well done production. Lindley’s staging is spot on and she and her actors achieve beautiful timing and pace and plot surprises are just that—real surprises to the unsuspecting audience. Many character interactions that can be difficult to make believable, a stage fight, for instance, are brought off perfectly and realistically. The tension builds as it should to the climax and the action unravels quickly following that. Timing is fantastic on the part of the actors, with special kudos going to Bangle and Harding.
Joshua Bangle brings arrogance and energy and cunning to his character to make Brandon completely unlikeable. Collin Miller as the far less assured and almost completely non-aggressive Granillo uses sub-text believably to create the increasing tension that brings him to the eventual breaking point. I watched carefully, and Miller never dropped his character. The anxiety was always there and evident, sometimes a little less, sometimes more, depending on his feelings of security. He creates a character in stark contrast to the wildly energetic, physical Brandon and that makes the pairing work.
Joe Porter as the servant, Sabot, is French in voice and manner. His discomfort in the flat waiting on the two young men is evident and he manages the service with disapproval in every look he flashes. Julia Kendry is convincing as the pretty young thing with nary an original or intelligent thought in her head, along with a witless giggle. Thomas McKee is properly leering as the other student present at the party and does a nice job with brawn and not so much brains.
As the eccentric and unnervingly silent father of the slain student, Budd Mahan tackles a thankless role handed him by the playwright. He is onstage for long stretches of time with no action and no words. That seemed an error on the part of Hamilton who should have written Sir Kentley in more completely. As it is, he doesn’t give the actor much to work with, though Mahan gave it his best shot. Thank goodness for the phone call. It provided at least a glimpse into the father’s character, though not much more.
Rusty Harding is quite the talkative eccentric as Rupert Cadell, an older friend of the two young murderers. His character actually precipitated the idea of planning and executing the perfect murder for the challenge and thrill of the deed, though he doesn’t realize this until later in the play. But he is no hero. Not as Harding conceives him. He is the slyest of all, and his “about face” is carried off brilliantly. My only criticism was I had great difficulty hearing him much of the time. Given that, it was not good to have him speak with full back to the audience because we really had to strain to understand. Today it seems many community theatre audiences are made up of more and more of our senior theatre goers and I know for my companion and me, hearing can become difficult in live theatre unless the characters are a) miked or b) comfortable with vocally projecting their character to the last row in the theatre. In a theatre as small as the Richardson venue, mikes shouldn’t be necessary. Find those diaphragms, actors!
The set was plain but British in tone and décor. The walls, however, were just too “flat” in color. No texture to them at all. The Up Left exit was awkward as it was too small and led to two opposite directions. Costumes were hit and miss, I thought. This production was set during the Blitz in London during the early part of WWII, placing it in the early 1940’s. Granillo’s sweater vest looked perfectly British and in the period, while Brandon’s colored shirt was neither. Kendry was lovely in her after five frock, and it worked okay, though it wasn’t truly of the period. And Cadell looked of the period while Kentley did not. But all were acceptable except Brandon’s red shirt. No way.
I apologize to the cast for the audience. They must have all had a big Sunday lunch and come to the theatre for a nap. I had to look around at times to make sure they were still there! This well-done show deserved more than a short-lived, hardly heard “tapping” of hands at the curtain call. This type play doesn’t seem to be oft-produced and I for one was glad to have the opportunity not only to see it but to see it well done! Good Show Richardson!
RICHARDSON THEATRE CENTER
518 West Arapaho Rd.
Richardson, TX 75080
Playing through November 12, 2017
Thursday performances, 7:30 p.m. $20
Friday and Saturday performances, 8 p.m. $22
Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. $20
Call for reservations: 972-699-1130