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Theater Review: The mystery continues at Beloit Civic Theatre

February 2, 2011

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Being an avid reader, my choice of genre is eclectic, but a good mystery is often my choice on a cold winter’s day. The company of the 78-year-old theater has chosen a season of mystery. Opening with Whodunit, the Musical, their current production is Cliffhanger. Written by James Yaffe, it is directed by Doris Hunter Tropp. In her notes, she recognizes the playwright’s motivations in developing the plot, but also questions what she describes as “the conundrums.” Reading this before the play began may have colored some of my reactions.

The company has created another spectacular set. Henry Lowenthal, played by Jay Goodwin, and his wife, Polly (Donna Balsley), live in a college community in the Rockies. The decor is reminiscent of the ’70s and includes a huge stone fireplace, hanging lamps and a stereo that plays their collection of LPs. The set, designed by Donna Balsley and Doris Tropp, reflects their amazing talent.

Now for the mystery… Act I begins with a confrontation between Goodwin and Lisa Scholten (Edith Wilshire, a former student, now heading his department). Her appearance is brief. The bust of Socrates becomes a murder weapon in Henry’s hands… and so it begins.

The play starts slowly as the plot evolves. My original impression—this is going to be a long afternoon, but with the entrance of Forrest Dassow as Melvin McMullen, Henry’s erratic student, and Robert Anthony as Detective Dave DeVito, the action becomes more interesting.

The set includes a pantry on the stage left that becomes an integral part of the plot… coffee and tea are made there, and bodies are hidden from visitors. Of course, it’s not fun knowing the ending, so to discover the solution, do go see Cliffhanger. Our friends, Kathy and Jerry Stevens, who had starred in the season opener, were at Saturday’s matinee. Kathy had been scheduled to play Polly, but a medical problem prevented her from taking the role. It is so good to see those still active in local theater.

Cliffhanger continues at Beloit Civic Theatre at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 3 and 4, and at 3 and 7:30 p.m., Feb. 5. For tickets, call (608) 362-1595 from noon to 5 p.m.

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