BWW Reviews: 1940's Crime Drama at Cockpit in Court Provides Stylish Whodunit Mystery
Laura, a classic 1940's crime drama, is on stage at Cockpit in Court on the campus of the Community Colleges of Baltimore County in Essex. This crime drama bears all the trappings associated with this American crime fiction genre – a murder victim, an unyielding police detective, some high society hi-jinks, and a great looking gal. What's not to love?
The story opens with a murder, naturally, and police detective Mark McPherson, played precisely to type by Greg Guyton, who's fallen in love with the victim, the great looking gal, Laura, played beguilingly by Melissa O'Brien. As the story unfolds, it gets complicated and the suspects are numerous. I swear, as the show unfolded, I suspected almost every character of the murder (except the maid, Bessie Clary, played wonderfully by Joan Crooks whose comedic timing was perfect). Never having seen the 1944 film noir version of this story, I was free to roam through all the characters and wonder, "Could that be the killer?" There's enough undercurrent to suspect Laura's fiancé, Shelby Carpenter, played by Jeb Beard, who seems to have trouble keeping his pants zipped. Or the young man downstairs, Danny Dorgan, played by Dennis Binseel, who has fallen in love with Laura. Or Danny's mother, played by Janise Whelan, who hates Laura for having corrupted her classic pianist son with the heinous world of jazz music. It's a wonderful cast of characters each with motive and opportunity to commit the murder.
One of the joys of this production for me was the language which heralded to a day when people liked words and conversations painted pictures and told stories. So much better than today's short, crisp 'true dat' and 'whassup' conversations. In this story, Waldo Lydecker, played masterfully by Phil Gallagher, is Laura's mentor, protector, and escort around town. Educated, society attached, and full of himself, he uses such wonderful words like "wasteful" and "prodigal" when describing the murder victim. He tells the police detective that he "showered a naïve women with trinkets and in her eyes I was a generous man, and thus I became a generous man." Lydecker, distrustful of Laura's Southern bred fiancé, says to the police detective, "I find Southern chivalry a cover for barbarism." He claims Laura's fascination with her fiancé was a mere, "call of the flesh." Wonderful words, wonderful descriptions. You can see why these stories played so well on the radio back in the 40s and 50s. It is easy to close your eyes and follow the unfolding story and picture it all in your head.
The one thing that interrupted the play for me was the theater. Laura is playing upstairs at Cockpit (which boasts several theaters) in the Cabaret theater which was set up as theater in the round. For me, the richness of the production – stylish flowing dresses of the leading lady, the trench coated detective, the antiques of the staging – was marred when on the other side of the actor was an audience member in his hoodie circa. 2012 and his $150 Nike tennis shoes. It spoiled the mood. I think a period piece is better suited for a main stage setting where the audience can get completely lost in the setting and characters and only return to the real world at the end of the production.
Laura runs through August 5th at Cockpit in Court. If you're in the mood for a classic 'Whodunit', stop by.