by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN
Reviewed Performance 9/16/2017
Wow. That best sums up the performance I saw this past Sunday afternoon in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Wow.
There are shows that are technical wonders and there are some that glorious affairs with actors singing and dancing often at the same time and then there are shows like this. An incredibly written script that relies heavily on the ability of the actors. A show like this, a murder mystery that will surprise you at the end, will only be effective if the actors are fully immersed in the play, the action/reaction and interplay between the characters. And let me tell you buddy, Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre has assembled an A++ ensemble for this production.
I really do not want to give away any spoilers so let me just sum up the plot this way. Set in an upper-class apartment in New York City in 1944, detective Mark McPherson has fallen in love with Laura Hunt. Problem is, Laura is dead, and he’s in charge of her murder investigation. From her portrait, her letters, her personal effects, and from his contacts with the three men who loved her, Mark has created an image of a woman tantalizingly real. As the story progresses, Mark discovers lies, infidelities, and hidden identities, all leading him into a labyrinthine search for Laura’s killer. Laura is a thrilling mystery in the film noir style played out in three acts. Now I pride myself on being able to figure out the murderer before the final scene. I do it so often that it drives my wife nuts. However, I did not figure this one out at all. Thinking back on the action leading up to the climax, I remembered things that should have pointed to the killer. Fear, utter surprise as things were revealed, statements made out of context were all used deftly by all the actors involved. Robert Banks as Waldo Lydecker, the pompous friend/benefactor of the deceased Laura was brilliant. I use that word a lot so let me expound on that. He was utterly stinking brilliant. The small details of his character, the ash flick at the back of a person he does not like, his sly delivery of sarcasm the completely believable reactions to situations on stage. Actually, one of the best performances I have seen in a while.
Laura Louise Smith as “a Girl” was completely spot-on with the nuances of her character that reveals the secrets that push the plot. Her side glances, facial expressions even the way she changed the gait of her walk on stage between situations was a clear indication of her thorough mastery of this character.
Brad Stephens convincingly portrayed the cop who knows he should become emotionally attached to his case and struggles when he realizes he is doing just that. His character was a little flat, but then, he is a detective who is not used to showing emotion so again, it was spot-on.
Sean Malloy as the love-struck teen enamored with Laura was maybe just a bit too old for the part but played as well as anybody could have. Andrew Manning as the fiancée, Shelby Carpenter, was powerful and precise as he was trying to hide certain things about Laura. Cynthia Daniels, Laura L. Jones, all the cast was just an impeccable assemblage of talent that could not have produced a better hour and a half of entertainment.
The unseen star of this production is Ryan Mathieu Smith. Ryan is the costume designer and every stitch of clothing on stage was perfectly parallel to the 1940s. I can remember seeing pictures of my mother in those dresses and coats. The men’s suits were tailored close to the forties style without being cliché ‘murder mystery’ stock. I could tell the time and research put into his efforts and the result was exceptional.
I truly, whole heartedly recommend seeing this show as it might be the best drama presented this year in the DFW Theatre scene.
LAURA plays through September 24th at the Sanders Theatre in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy ST next to the Museum of Science and History in the Cultural District
Friday and Saturday—8:PM
Saturday and Sunday—2:PM
For more information or to purchase tickets go to:
www.thetart.org or call 682-231-0082