Monday, November 10, 2014

“A Sharp Edge in the Dark” Sliced with a dull Razor

By Deardra Shuler

Murder is being committed and holding in suspense the audience of Creative Arts Unlimited, located at Varick Community Center (part of Mother AME Zion Church) at 151 West 136th Street in Harlem.  “A Sharp Edge in the Dark,” written by John Ellerbree and directed by Charles E. Wise has all the elements that come with a murder mystery: deceit, greed, malice, schemes, false friends, suspects, and a knife wielding killer.

The play begins with Lil Phillips beautifully singing “Friends Are Forever,” in such sultry tones, I was sure her song was the precursor to a stimulating play and murder mystery.  The action centered around Juliette Novack (Vanessa Michelle Charles), the rich widow of millionaire Frank Novack, who was murdered mysteriously a year or so previously, leaving behind his widow, daughter and Juliette’s step daughter, Tiffany (Atika Greene), his secretary and Juliette’s best friend, Della LaRue (performed by Florence Mills). They were also mentioned in his will along with landlady and partner, Mrs. Gerber played by Gloria McNeal and a chauffeur named Tony Andrews (Hayze Barfield). All but Juliette were dissatisfied with their inheritance.  Anger, jealousy and greed ensue when the daughter and chauffeur are left with nothing and Juliette is given the bulk of the estate.

With so much potential, unfortunately the play veers off into a tangle of characters too many to keep up with – there is the disgruntled Peter Simmons (Samuel Roberts) whose threats against Tiffany and Juliette make him a prime suspect.  There is Glynnis, the lounge owner, acted by Jo-Hanna Daughtrey and the Police Commissioner Joshua Logan (James Ealy) who is courting Juliette.  Other cast members are Omar Cooke, Anthony Lucas, Kevin Lamar Brown and Allen Craig Harris who plays the dual role of a doctor and lawyer; all are tossed together in a gumbo of unnecessary scenes, lengthy production pauses and amateurish stiff and lifeless acting.  However, I must add that Samuel Roberts as the angry suspect and Florence Mills as the scheming friend stand out as effective and interesting characters.  Unfortunately, several of the actors spoke too low and stumbled over their lines. The inability of several of the actors to project caused the audience to miss dialogue that led to essential clues. 

The direction of Mr. Wise was scattered. He did not weave the play together in a congruent fashion to best highlight the suspense or mystery.  He missed many of the fine points that the audience picked up immediately. He or an administrator didn’t list on the playbill the character’s names in association with the actors; or note the reading of the will being read over a year after the death of Juliette’s husband, nor camouflaged set props to enable the audience to distinguish between the homes of the varied characters.  Why was Tiffany ringing the doorbell to her own home? Five minutes or more passed between scenes while the actors made unnecessary wardrobe changes; the pointless setting up of a mike in a nightclub scene gave an actor credit for singing “Friends Are Forever,” when he did not use the mike or even sing the song.  At one point, while the audience awaited another lengthy scene change, the stage manager walked in front of the audience to instruct those removing props.   It was also disconcerting to see the actors repeatedly drinking out of empty glasses pretending to pour liquor out of unopened bottles.  I refrain on pointing out other inconsistencies since it involves the plot.

There were numerous threats against various characters and against Juliette and Tiffany in particular.  The initial murder at the play’s beginning was unexplained or as I later found out was explained, but the actors spoke so low (even though I was in the front row), neither I nor the audience heard why the murder took place.  Since dialogue is essential in leading the audience to its conclusion, actors who do not project or seem unanimated provide the audience with no other recourse but to leave unsatisfied and perplexed.

Having said all of this, I think I was invited prematurely to review the play. The show did not start on time therefore the time factor necessary to the play was thwarted.  Due to starting late, the play ran into the time slot of another booking and thereby the play was concluded without showing its ending. Thusly, the confused audience never got a resolve since the production ended abruptly with no announcement explaining to the audience they didn’t see the true ending.  Thereby, the audience never found out who the murderers were or why they murdered.  The actors’ I’m told never had a dress rehearsal and was doing the play in its entirety for the first time.  I think had the director done a few rehearsals of the play prior to showcasing it, he may have caught some of the discrepancies and been aware of the time needed to run it in advance of premiering it. 

The numerous mistakes made it hard to give this play a fair review.  I do think “A Sharp Edge in the Dark” has possibility.  I can only suggest that the director view a few murder mysteries so he has a better understanding of how to weave the play.  I do not put the entire blame on the director however since I do think all concerned played a role in the murdering of this play.  I suggest the writer and the director return to the drawing board with all concerned taking heed of my critique.  Hopefully they will make corrections before their next performance on Saturday, November 15th at 2:00pm wherein at such time they resurrect the play giving it the life it deserves.