Written by Patrick Chavis
Postmortem fits in quite well with the paradigm of the mystery play. It follows the rules of a typical mystery to the tee. On the one hand, following tradition allows for wonderful dialogue and drama. However, the traditional mystery structure also has weaknesses, and when a show’s direction is almost nonexistent, the weaknesses become very obvious. Even avid lovers of mystery theatre will have a hard time enjoying the Newport Theatre Arts Center’s production of Postmortem. The stakes are so low the authentic gunshots used in the play may be the only thing keeping your attention on the stage.
The year is 1922. Our protagonist, William Gillette, is not a detective but an actor who has become famous for playing a detective. Whereas some leave the acting fantasy for the script, Gillette fancies himself a detective on and off the stage. With his intentions shrouded in mystery, Gillette invites guests to an isolated mansion (because that makes it creepy) to perform a séance.
In some ways working with a straightforward story and script like Postmortem can be harder to pull off than a newer play or an original work. Many audience expectations are working against it because we’ve seen the movies and know the genre. Unless you are completely unplugged from media, you’ve likely viewed a few film noirs or watched a cop drama on the television, so most people know the basic structure of a mystery. And yet there are reasons why mystery fiction has been such a popular genre for so long. It’s intriguing and, in some ways, more empowering than other narratives. By its very nature, the mystery novel empowers the reader to solve the mystery themselves, to outthink Sherlock. My main issue stems from the lack of tension and emotion that should be gleaned from the actors’ performances. A good majority of this play is dialogue, and for the most part, it’s spoken correctly, but the element of emotion was lacking in most of the pivotal moments in the show. The acting progresses as the show moves forward, mainly in the play’s most dramatic, high-intensity areas. Higher priority seemed to be given to certain moments – in other words, uneven direction. Of course, it could simply be stiffness on the part of the performers.
Postmortem is a comedy and thriller, but the lack of direction and streamlined acting leave most of the jokes on the floor. Almost every inkling of comedy in this story becomes irrelevant.
Set designer Andrew Otero and Lighting Designer Michael Castillo bring a strong air of professionalism to the set of the Postmortem. The design, lighting, and physical effects in this show improve the production. The atmosphere of the beautiful mansion set, combined with the dark, moody lighting, perfectly set the mood for the show. Another wonderful aspect of this show is the physical props used during scenes. The gunshots sound real, and they get quite loud.
NTAC’s production of Postmortem has some fun elements but ultimately falls short of its source material due to uneven performances and minimal artistic direction.
September 11 – October 11, 2015
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