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BWW Review: Can A SHRED OF EVIDENCE Really Ruin Your Idyllic Life?

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Tense mysteries where not much happens in the way of real action on the stage can be problematic if the storyline proves to be too easy to figure out. Thankfully A SHRED OF EVIDENCE by R.C. Sherriff directed by Jules Aaron at Theatre 40 is so well written and directed that you will be kept on the edge of your seat trying to figure out if the lead character really is guilty of a crime he cannot remember committing when all the circumstantial evidence points directly to him being the culprit.

Richard Medway (David Hunt Stafford) is a corporate functionary about to be elevated to a major executive director post. He has a lovely, devoted wife, a smart daughter about to enter college, and a young son away at boarding school. It's November 1958 and the Medways have a beautiful home on a country road in Guildford, outside of London.

One night, he arrives home drunk after attending a rugby club reunion dinner. The next day, he hears an item on the radio about a hit-and-run slaying a few miles from his home and comes to believe that he may have been the perpetrator of this horrible crime. And since he has no clear memory of the event in question due to his excessive drinking, he isn't quite sure what he did and where he went other than he remembers driving two men home from the reunion, placing him at the location of the crime at just the right time - if he drove home that way.

As he puts together circumstantial evidence that begins to mount against him, Richard begins to work at covering his tracks with the help of his solicitor friend John Cartwright (John Wallace Combs) and his concerned wife Laura (Alison Blanchard). Unfortunately for Richard, one of his passengers on the night in question, Mr. Bennett (Scotsman Peter McGlynn) who he had only met that evening, turns against him rather than assisting in not providing evidence to the Inspector (Daniel Lench) assigned to investigate the crime, insisting Richard pay for his silence. Is Richard a drunk-driving murderer or a victim of his own fearful imagination? Will the events of one fateful night destroy him, his career, his marriage and his family? And just what will it take to prove his innocence?

The only problem I had with the production was the casting of Esther Richman as Mrs. Bennett, wife of the blackmailing passenger. Richman is a fine actress but in no way believable in the role given the age difference between the actors playing spouses. It would be wise to refer to her as his shrewish mother looking out for her son rather than his wife, a change that totally fits her part in the play as she supports him in his quest for financial recompense for keeping quiet about Richard's drunken state of mind on the night in question.

It's also not clear why the Medways daughter Pamela (Katy Yoder) is included in the play other than to deliver a punch line at the end. Her desire to attend Oxford to study archeology has little to do with the storyline and she plays no part in the mystery as she disappears from the story before the unravelling of the crime even begins. Certainly the playwright knows the answer for his inclusion of this character, but it certainly remains a mystery to me.

That said, audiences will always love British mysteries and A SHRED OF EVIDENCE doesn't disappoint thanks to the skillful characterizations by all the lead actors, especially David Hunt Stafford whose ability to take us along for Richard's descent into fearful guilt is so realistic you can really sympathize with how he fears his idyllic life may be coming to an end and his overwhelming need to cover up any evidence which may prove his guilt. As he consults with his attorney, wife, and Captain Foster (Richard Hoyt Miller), his other passenger who kicked their drinking into high gear on the night in question, the tension mounts at just the right pace up to the totally unexpected conclusion.

Jeff G. Rack again creates a magnificent set on which the story plays out. The rest of the technical team is first-rate from Michele Young's costumes, Ric Zimmerman's lighting design, and Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski's mood-enhancing sound design including thunder which rolls in at just the right moment, increasing the tension as it mounts in poor Richard's mind.

Director Jules Aaron keeps the actors moving realistically around the room as they attempt to figure out how to assist Richard in clearing himself. He makes sure to present Richard's wife Laura as the perfect 50's housewife, moving about her home in shirtwaist dresses with matching cardigan sweaters, always ready with a meal, coffee, a dust rag, or the emotional support needed by her husband. But as he sinks into despair, Blanchard's expression lets us know even she is questioning her husband's story without saying a word. And I guarantee you will also be questioning his innocence right up to the very end!

A SHRED OF EVIDENCE continues through April 17, 2016 on Thursday- Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 2:00pm at Theatre 40 in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. The venue is located on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. There is ample free parking in the lot adjacent to the theatre. Admission is $30 and tickets may be purchased by calling (310) 364-0535 or online at www.theatre40.org


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From This Author Shari Barrett