Laura Hunt is a magnet for men. They come into her orbit and cling to her for dear life. Even when she tries to shake them, they only take a few steps away from her before being pulled back in.
Her apparent death takes place before the play begins, but that doesn’t loosen her hold on the men in her life. She just pulls a new man into her life — the detective investigating her murder.
“Laura,” best known as the title of the 1944 film noir starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, kicks off the season for the New Surry Theatre at Blue Hill’s Town Hall Theatre. It is a fun show, that is well staged and acted but about 15 minutes too long for 21st century theatergoers.
Vera Caspary, author of the novel the film was based on, penned the play with George Sklar because she didn’t like how her protagonist was portrayed. She wanted Laura to be a career woman who attracted but didn’t need a man to be fulfilled in life.
Director Robin Jones uses his cast well to slowly and carefully build and steer the whodunit plot to its conclusion. Jones is especially good at getting the cast to wring all the humor out of the characters without making the laughs feel forced. The cast does need to pick up the pacing in the third act so the play lunges rather than creeps toward the climax.
Bryan Lescord as detective Mark McPherson is a formidable presence on stage. He perfectly captures the swagger and detachment of noir detectives yet is able to drop that persona to reveal McPherson’s complete vulnerability to Laura’s charms. As the audience sees the plot unfold through his eyes, the identity of the killer becomes clear, and Laura steps out of her portrait to become a human being.
As Laura, Johannah Blackman is delightfully captivating. The actress portrays Laura’s reaction to how and why she was presumed dead with genuine confusion. Blackman is able to reveal Laura’s attraction to McPherson as if she were unraveling a smoldering sweater. She is a joy to watch.
Randall Simons’ Waldo Lydecker is a caution. The actor keeps theatergoers guessing about who this catty, superior being actually is to Laura. Did he really mold her into the woman onstage? Or, is he the man who is keeping her from realizing her full potential? How much does he truly love this woman? Simons’ demeanor and delivery owes much to Clifton Webb, who played Lydecker in the film. Simons’ portrayal is more an homage than a copy or a theft.
Hoyt Hutchins, Tyler Johnstone, Leanne Nickon and Vanessa Hawkins are equally good as the leads in supporting roles. Johnstone is particularly smarmy as Laura’s fiance.
Set designer Annie Poole’s portrait of Laura often is and should be the focal point of the play. Unfortunately, it sometimes fights for the audience’s attention with a painting above the stage left over from last season’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” The shtetl is totally out of place in Laura’s glamorous apartment and occasionally distracts from the action on stage.
Much of what grounds “Laura” in its time period is the jazz music that was becoming popular at the time. No one is credited on the program with sound design, but the music is as vital to this production as is the portrait.
Despite its flaws, “Laura” is a loving tribute to the noir genre. Like Laura herself, New Surry’s production pulls theatergoers into its orbit and holds them close as if for a dance. The delight is in figuring out when it’s going to be a two-step, a waltz or a tango.
“Laura” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Town Hall Theatre, 18 Union St., Blue Hill. Friday’s performance was canceled due to the snowstorm. For information, call 207-200-4720 or visit newsurrytheatre.org.