Sunday, October 23, 2016

Terror by Gaslight—Twilight Theater—N. Portland

A Grave Man

This very dark comedy, appropriate for Halloween, is written by Tim Kelly and directed by Doug Jacobs.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (just off Lombard), through November 5th.  There is limited parking in a church lot directly across from the theatre.  For more information, go to their site at

The time is the early 19th Century in Philadelphia…an era ripe for changes.  Although the story is a mix Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, R. L. Stevenson’s, The Body Snatchers, and a bit of Sweeny Todd thrown in for good measure, it borders on a couple of serious issues back then.  One, in order for doctors to learn about how to best perform surgery, they needed bodies to dissect and examine.  Hiring grave robbers or “night crawlers” were doctors only source of cadavers but it was illegal.  Also it was considered not feminine for a woman to be interested in this profession.  Their only purpose, according to the accepted times, was to get married and propagate the race.  But, as I intimated, times, they were a-changin’!

Enter the cranky, cantankerous Dr. Norton (Gary Romans) who is a surgeon but has a dissecting room and hopes for a museum to focus on the human anatomy.  Although prominent in his field, he has colleagues, including the by-the-book, Dr. Winters (Redmond Reams), who keep a watchful on his “procedures.”  He also has an ex-student, a scumbag, Dr. Daniels (Breon McMullin), who is only interested in the profession for how it can profit him, including blackmail, if necessary.

But Norton has taken in a new student, Dover (Rob Kimmelman), who seems bright and willing to learn and eventually takes a shine to his daughter, Marilyn (Katherine Kyte), a very determined young lady who wants to learn the profession, too.  Another in his household is his stubborn sister, Constance (Debra Blake), who is devoted to the fact that a woman’s place is in the home with family and keeping house.  And Opal (Rachel Thomas) is the skittish and somewhat dim maid.  As you can see, heads are bound to clash when corpses begin to be a little “too fresh.”

It doesn’t help either that Norton has two nefarious “night crawlers” supplying him with bodies.  Scrubbs (Marty Winborne) is an apish, lowlife and is the brawn of the duo.  Gin Hester (Aje Summerly) is the other partner and is a mouthy drunk, the Burke and Hare of their day, which means that things will slide downhill from here.  Add a jilted “bride” by the name of Kitty (Kaitlynn Baugh), a pretty barmaid; a suspicious and a bit loony, grieving wife, Mrs. Culp (Katy Philp), of a corpse that disappeared; and a nosy detective, Harrison (Gary Sandelin) who, like a bulldog, will not let go of his hunches.  Can’t tell you more without revealing more of the plot but, know this, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

This is a fun show for a dark and stormy night (which it was) around Halloween.  Not necessarily for young kiddies but reasonably tastefully done, considering the subject matter.  Jacobs has cast it well and, being a community theatre, it is good to see a mix of newbies getting their feet wet and doing well and some seasoned actors treading the boards.

Romans turns Norton into a somewhat sympathetic character, who you condemn for his methods but also know he was a trailblazer.  Blake seems the most professional of the troop in her approach and, although you might see that she is trying to maintain a status quo, you also see a very determined woman who will not be silenced.  Kyte is an early example of a woman’s libber and plays it forcibly.  Baugh, in a small role, does shine, showing some talent.  And Winbrone and Summerly almost steal the show as the nefarious, dynamic, digging duo.  All and all, an entertaining evening and even a lesson or two woven into the fabric.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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