The first show of the Walterdale Theatre’s season is And Then, The Lights Went Out, written by Andy Garland and directed by David Johnston. It’s partly a funny story about a writer’s life and partly a hard-boiled detective tale using all the tropes of that genre.
John Evans plays Thomas, a young novelist who is running out of ideas for his detective-story series. Erin Forwick-Whalley and Jennifer Peebles are his landlady and neighbour, providing stakes, comic relief, and encouragement for him to finish his seventh novel for tomorrow’s deadline. The rest of the characters in the play are the characters in Thomas’s work-in-progress, ‘tried and true archetypes’ of the trenchcoat-wearing private detective (Kyle Lahti), the mysterious alluring woman (Erika Conway), the thug (Chance Heck), the perky sidekick police officer (Hayley Moorhouse), and a menacing Southern not-such-a-gentleman who reminded me of a Die-Nasty character from the Tennessee-Williams-pastiche season (Curtis Knecht).
At first, there is some amusement in the concept of the characters having life outside of the story and having opinions on the writer’s work, especially the thug who wants to be different. But I’d seen that done before. I was reminded of stories about moviemaking, like Make Mine Love, or the Die-Nasty marathon weekend where everyone was a soap-opera character and also an actor. I noticed that most of the characters spoke with different accents when they were “on stage” in the story, accents that evoked the hard-boiled stories of Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart in Maltese Falcon, and then shifted to speech similar to Thomas’ own when they were not acting out the story. Lights Went Out got more interesting and satisfying when the characters started pushing Thomas to make them more than stock characters, and then as he wrote they played out a story which had a satisfying and not entirely predictable ending.
And Then, The Lights Went Out continues at the Walterdale Theatre until this Saturday (October 25th). Tickets are available at the door, or in advance through Tix on the Square. The next show on the Walterdale stage will be John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, in early December. I’ve been helping out with that one, and I think it will be good.