On October 18, 1961, A Shot in the Dark opened at the Boothe Theatre on Broadway and ran for 389 performances. It starred Julie Harris, William Shatner and, Walter Matthau (Josef Lantana, Paul Sevigne, and Benjamin Beaurevers, respectively). It was subsequently morphed into the best in a series of Peter Seller’s Pink Panther series.
On September 19, 2008, A Shot in the Dark opened at Patio Playhouse running until October 12, 2008. It stars Karla Tilman, Tristan Hineline, and Stephen Rowe in the same roles. All of the action takes place in the chamber of an examining magistrate, Paul Sevigne, and his clerk, Morestan (Patrick McKin). There has been a murder of a chauffeur. His lover, Josef Lantana, a parlor maid, is the prime suspect.
Others are interviewed, but only she appears to have motive for this heinous crime. Throughout the three acts of investigations we met the Beaurevers, Dominique (PJ Anbey) and Benjamin.
Dominique is one of those poisonous social climbers that married for money and position. It’s easy to dislike her. Anbey gave her absolutely no redeeming qualities. Nice touch.
Benjamin, on the other hand, is a charming aristocrat, albeit with the proper touch of snobbery. He is quite open, admitting to his peccadilloes as well as his weaknesses. Rowe gives a perfectly believable performance.
Along the way we have a chance to meet Paul’s wife, Antoinette (Samantha Williams). Alas, playwright Marcel Achard and adapter Harry Kurntz provided her with minimal lines. However, Ms. Williams used her time on stage well. Merritt Bates, as the guard was totally silent, merely opening and closing the public door to the examining magistrate’s offices. McKim played Sevigne’s clerk as a typical bureaucrat with a minor chip on his shoulder.
Frank Guttiere plays Laplace, from Sevigne’s boss’s office. His sole purpose is to get a confession from the prime suspect and put her away . . . a one-day solving of a crime always goes over quite well. Guttiere has a complete understanding of his character. He enters, states his case, and pontificates. He has no interest in justice, only that the numbers look right for the offices. Like Anbey’s character, an individual that is easy to dislike, a clean and crisp portrayal.
This is Karla Tilman’s stage. She owns it. We understand that Josef is a woman who falls in love passionately. We know that she is honest to a fault. We also know that she is uneducated and just a wee bit slow in the head. One yearns for her Josef to shut up, for her every new word is more incriminating that the last one. It is a joy to watch the depth of Tillman’s total understanding of Josef. We are looking forward to her next role.
The casting of Tristan Hineline as a 35-year-old magistrate (read prosecutor) is a bit incongruous. Paul Sevigne, while new in the office, is a competent lawyer. The actor seemed ill-at-ease with depth of passion for Sevigne’s position and compassion for his first suspect. I feel he’ll grow in the role, possibly add variety in his performance, and give the ensuing audiences a more believable mix of emotions.
Director Vesta Gleissner made this oldie but goodie feel contemporary. Her set design helped the two in the office. Sevigne’s walls had some decorations, while Morestan’s walls were bleak. The furnishings also reflected the station of the two men. Costume designer Caro Louise Aristei selected costumes that, also, reflected the station of the characters from the very plain for Josefa to the elegant for Dominique.
A Shot in the Dark is on the boards at Patio Playhouse, 201 East Grand, Escondido. For reservations or information dial 760 746-6669 or go to the internet at www.patioplayhouse.com. It will be playing weekends through October 12th.