Recommended *** In the capable hands of Shattered Globe Theatre, Matt Pelfrey’s adaptation of John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night remains a compelling mystery and uniquely theatrical adaption of a novel. Throughout the play shades of light and darkness (Michael Standfill) highlight the plays themes of race and epistemology with incredible subtlety, yet is the darknes and the sense of night which dominate indicating confusion, racism, crime, but also speaking to the power of the black Los Angelis Detective Virgil Tibbs (Manny Buckley) to solve a murder which the white detectives could not in the Jim Crow South. The height of this production is the chemistry and complexities of the developing friendship between Tibbs and local Alabama office Sam Wood (Drew Schad) as the latter’s racism slowly sheds, but their relationship continues to balance mutual advocacy and affection with mutual fear and suspicion. Buckley and Schad execute the nuances of the relationship with extreme dexterity, and its central to making this a moving and compelling production.
Nor are the power of either actor’s performance limited to this relationships: their excellent performances stand out in each scene, and more than enough to maintain the play’s mystery, suspense, and tension. Steve Pebbles is also to be credited. He demonstrates an incredible dexterity as the Coroner, Mayor, Schubert, Ralph, and a Klan member. However, this also means, through no fault of his own, that he is never given time to fully cultivate his characters’ and should almost certainly been allowed to concentrate his talent on his most central role. As to other actors, with the exception of the Natalie Tatum’s graceful and nuanced portrayal of Christina Gorman, they often fell into the all to easy trap of making the southern role caricatures rather than characters: a consistent problem that actors face in play’s about the South.
The set (Joe Schermoly) and properties (Vivian Knouse) were austere and certain props at times, at least, felt anachronistic although they allowed director Louis Contey to create some incredibly dramatic and theatrical scenes, and he was convincingly able to manipulate what few props he had to convincingly represent, with the help of the lighting and sound (Chris Kriz), the most difficult parts of the narrative to stage. However, it was left to the superb costume designer (Sarah Jo White) to effectively create the ambience of the Jim Crow South which she did with incredible dexterity, mitigating, if not eliminating, the other technical problems and tendency of the actors to fall into caricature as far as creating a sense of time and place
“In the Heat of the Night” will continue at Theatre Wit located at 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, through June 5, 2016.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3:00 p.m.
with an additional 3:00 pm performance on Saturday June 4th.
There will, however, be no performance Friday evening on June 3rd.
Tickets are available by calling 773-975-8150, visiting www.theatrewit.org, or in person at the Theatre Wit Box office.
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