LA Review: 'The Bat'

at Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

July 31, 2012


Photo by Ed Krieger
Writer Mary Roberts Rinehart was known in her heyday as the American Agatha Christie. She scored her greatest early success with the 1908 mystery novel "The Circular Staircase," and in 1920 she joined forces with comedy writer Avery Hopwood (best known for "Getting Gertie's Garter") to adapt it for the stage. It proved an enormous success, chalking up more than 800 performances, was filmed three times, and has been credited with being an inspiration for Batman.

Wealthy, acerbic Cornelia Van Gorder has rented a mansion in upstate New York, but ever since she moved in she has been receiving anonymous death threats urging her to leave the house before it's too late. The local bank has just been robbed, and a million dollars has gone missing. A storm is raging, and the newspapers are full of reports about a super-criminal known as the Bat.

In the course of a single mad night, there have been strange interlopers, the storm has put out the lights, and a man has been murdered in the drawing room. There are far too many suspects: The local doctor-coroner (Stephen Davies) is clearly up to no good, the house's owner (Ross Alden) suspects that the proceeds from the bank robbery are hidden somewhere in the house, and the new gardener (Michael Perl) doesn't know the difference between a hardy perennial and male pattern baldness. A wealthy socialite (Chris Petschler) is prowling the terrace with a flashlight, the police inspector (Madison Mason) is curiously incompetent, and a mysterious amnesiac staggers into the house and passes out. Cornelia's beautiful but naive niece Dale (Elizabeth J. Carlisle) is playing a game of her own, and Lizzie the maid (Loraine Shields) is vociferously terrified.

The piece has enough plot for three plays, but it's too leisurely in unfolding. Director Martin M. Speer might have been wise to generate more speed and energy, particularly in the early scenes.

Veronica Cartwright's Cornelia is effective as far as it goes, but the script suggests a more peppery approach. Davies' coroner is stylishly sinister, and Carlisle's Dale, in the style of many slasher movies, has a genius for making dumb decisions. Yas Takahashi lends energy to the Japanese butler, and Shields, as the hysterical and disheveled Lizzie, provides much of the evening's comedy.

Jeff G. Rack's two sets are beautifully detailed, and costume designer Michele Young provides some wonderful period gowns.

Presented by and at Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. July 26–Aug. 26. Thu.–Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org.
 

 
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