nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 27, 2008
The Painter, a new one-act drama by Reginald Oldham, is an involving, entertaining, twisty mystery where nothing and nobody can be trusted to be what it/he/she seems. Oldham himself stars as Michael Train, a painter whose wife has just been brutally murdered (knife in the heart; lots of blood). Michael says he found his wife this way; that he was in his studio, painting, and didn't hear her screams (though a neighbor did hear them, and called the police); that he loved his wife and he can't believe she's gone.
We meet Michael, by the way, in a police interrogation room. Detective John Howitz, who begins the interrogation, is clearly convinced that Michael is guilty, and the facts of the case would seem to bear him out: Michael's fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, the murder scene was a locked room that only Michael had access to, and some damaging information is trickling in that suggests Michael had motive to kill his wife.
But as I said, nothing is simple in this suspenseful tale. John's partner, Detective Christine Pearl, doesn't agree with the way John is handling the interrogation. We'll find out soon enough that she and Michael used to know each other (does he still remember her?). There's a bungled case in John's recent past, plus marital problems at home: is that why John is such a loose cannon right now?
Oldham's script keeps us guessing, right up to the very end. The dialogue is convincing and the characterizations, though necessarily somewhat archetypal given the relative brevity of the piece, are well-drawn. In fact, I only had one thing gnawing at me as I watched the play: given years of Law & Order episodes on TV, I'm used to interrogations of murder suspects being supervised by a commanding officer, and I missed that here. (And though there's a brief reference to Michael getting a lawyer, no one follows up on that either.) So there's a possible verisimilitude issue here.
But mostly that didn't worry me, as the story drew me in and absolutely held my attention. The Painter is directed by Jamey Isenor, who delivers the relentless pacing that a play like this requires. Joining the excellent Oldham in the cast are Ryan Stadler and Hope Singsen as John and Christine; Stadler comes into his own in the play's second half, offering a knockout performance of the very conflicted, very uncertain policeman, but Singsen's performance has less variety than her colleagues'.
The realistic set from R & J Studios is excellent. Appropriate lighting is provided by Autumn Clark.
The Painter is the third production from the young company Barracuda Theater Club. This troupe, comprised of students from The Barrow Group Apprentice Class, continues to demonstrate real talent for creating intriguing and provocative theatre.