Strong Cast Overcomes Sleep-Inducing Mystery At Stray Dog

Stray-oncouch

Sarajane Alverson (standing} and Jeff Kargus talk freely as Angela Bubash pretends to be passed out on the couch in Stray Dog’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.” Photo: John Lamb

There’s nothing like a good mystery. Last season Stray Dog Theatre gave us one of the best- Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” This year, not so much. A cliche-ridden, slow moving mystery called “I’ll Be Back By Midnight” gets bogged down almost immediately with the premise and then slogs through two acts with a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a disappointment when you’re sitting there trying to figure out who the killer is and…well, go see for yourself. And I do recommend the production despite the somewhat sophomoric script because of the stellar cast that brings life to this production.

Stray-couple

Angela Bubash as Jan and Jeff Kargus as Greg talk things over during “I’ll Be Back By Midnight” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Angela Bubash as Jan is pouring her heart into this role of the tortured wife who is skittish after spending some time in a psychiatrist’s care. She is properly remorseful and agitated that her husband has brought her to this remote house to try to calm her nerves. It really is a great performance considering some of the trite lines and the emotions she goes through in her time alone on stage facing demons of one sort or another. As her husband Greg, Jeff Kargus brings the right touch of care and malevelonce to the role that puts him at the top of everyone’s suspect list from the start.

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Jeff Kargus, Sarajane Alverson and Angela Bubash talk as Chekov’s famous “shotgun” is off the wall during Stray Dog’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.” Photo: John Lamb

Sarajane Alverson could entertain us by, sorry for my cliche, reading us the phone book. Playing Greg’s overbearing sister Laura, she brings a sweet, sarcastic tone to the woman who obviously has never liked his choice for a wife. She figuratively twists the knife every time she has the chance. Rounding out the unusually small cast for a mystery is a wonderful performance by Mark Abels as the quirky next door neighbor who loves sharing the lurid past of the house to Jan. Drinking them out of Jack Daniels, he has a homespun flavor but is he homicidal as well?

Director Justin Been has attempted to wring every ounce of suspense from this somewhat juvenile script. I kept thinking how nice it would be if he had chosen something a bit more realistic and frightening like the classic “Night Watch.” The tech end of the show doesn’t help matters either with a rather flat and monotonous set by the usually inventive Rob Lippert and the lighting design of Tyler Duenow who forgets to backlight the outside of the house so when someone says, “It’s broad daylight out there,” it really is. Eileen Engel’s costumes are very good.

Stray-threesome

Sarajane Alverson, Jeff Kargus and Mark Abels in “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

If you’re really a fan of the mystery play, you may be able to get into this one, but I couldn’t get in step with the excitement that a truly suspenseful play is supposed to create. Peter Colley’s “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” just doesn’t hold up to the genre. As I said, go for the mystery but stay for the delightful performances. This fine group of actors manage to create interest where there is little to be had. “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight” plays through February 20th at Stray Dog Theatre. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information.

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