BWW Reviews: Entertaining, Mysterious SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE Charms at 2nd Story
Seven Keys to Baldpate, now playing UpStage at Warren's 2nd Story Theatre, provides pure theatrical entertainment of the highest order. In line after line of this thoroughly-enjoyable production, 2nd Story delivers an ever-deepening mystery, an eclectic set of engaging characters, spot-on verbal and physical comedy, and sparkling wit.
Baldpate was penned in 1913 by Rhode Island's own George M. Cohen - "The man who owned Broadway" - and this production marks the 100th anniversary of both Cohen's script and of the historic Market Street building that 2nd Story Theatre calls home. Despite reaching its centennial milestone, Cohen's work remains relevant and stands the test of time remarkably well; the play's mystery and its suspense-filled twists still captivate, while the farce is honestly amusing and beautifully structured from curtain to curtain.
The story takes place in the dead of winter and unfolds over the course of eight hours. William Hallowell Magee (played by Ara Boghigian), a prolific writer of melodramatic potboilers, makes a singular - and expensive - bet with his friend Hal Bentley. Their wager requires Magee to write a complete novel in the space of one night, with a ten thousand dollar prize (and, of course, bragging rights) on the line. Bentley provides the ideal location for the writer's concentration and solitude: the Baldpate Inn, a summer resort that is totally deserted during the snowy winter months. Magee accepts the bet with his characteristic exuberant confidence; accordingly, he hops on the first train north and installs himself at Baldpate's fireside just before the clock strikes midnight.
The novelist is assured again and again that his is the one and only key to the Inn, an extra guarantee that he will be left in complete peace as he attempts to produce a new book and uphold his part of the gamble. Naturally, no sooner does Magee settle behind his typewriter than an unexpected visitor appears - his own key in hand - on the doorstep at Baldpate.
The menacing John Bland (Joe Henderson) is the first, but by no means the last, guest to descend on Magee. In just a few short hours, Magee encounters petty crooks, dirty businessmen, overly-ambitious journalists, crooked politicians, dishonest policemen, and even a ghost or two. When a two hundred thousand dollar bribe goes missing from the Inn's wall safe, Magee's promised quietude is irrevocably shattered, and it seems as though every outlandish plot he ever penned comes to life before him in the Baldpate lobby.
Cohen's writing is extremely self-aware, and the comedic chaos that ensues is controlled, present first and always in service to his storytelling and the developing mystery. The material is undeniably quick-witted and challenging, but 2nd Story's brilliant ensemble cast (under the insightful direction of Ed Shea) superbly handles each new twist in Seven Keys to Baldpate.
From the smallest roles to the leading characters, 2nd Story cast Baldpate perfectly. As Magee, Boghigian exudes the cocksure confidence that propels the novelist into the wager in the first place. He is affable, charismatic, occasionally grandiose, and utterly unflappable. Even when gun-toting hooligans invade the writer's retreat, Boghigian retains Magee's poise by diffusing the most daunting situations with a readily-delivered literary quip (often from Magee's own books). Indeed, Boghigian gives Magee an expression not only of self-possession, but also of unfeigned delight as he watches the melodrama and bedlam unfold before him.
Erin Elliott plays girl journalist and Magee's love interest, Mary Norton, with picture-perfect pluckiness, resourcefulness, and the right touch of romance. Often, Elliott serves as the eye of the storm in Baldpate, and she is an ideal straight-arrow foil to the zaniness developing through the other characters.
John Michael Richardson gives a truly memorable performance as Peters, the snarky, misogynistic hermit who resides just a mile away from the seasonally-deserted Baldpate Inn. Richardson has some of the best one-liners of the show and he delivers each zinger flawlessly. His body language and facial expressions alone are enough, at times, to inspire the entire audience to outright laughter.
Tanya Anderson and Jeff DeSisto also escalate Baldpate's humor as small-time crooks Myra Thornhill and Lou Max. The duo's histrionics, especially the fallout when Myra and Lou angrily confess their plans to double and triple cross one another, are comedy gold. And the entire ensemble has an absolutely show-stopping, not-to-be-missed exchange as the occupants of Baldpate attempt to explain - in perfect unison - the evening's implausible events to the long-suffering police detective who finally arrives to investigate the escalating activity at the mountaintop resort.