‘Laura’ captivates audiences at WCT

The enigmatic noir romance-murder drama, “Laura,” directed by Suzanne Frederickson and Karen Jacobson, opened Friday at the Whittier Community Theatre, entertaining audiences with a colorful cast and compelling plot. “Laura,” will be showing for four more days at the WCT; Feb. 21, 22, 23 and Mar. 1 at 8 p.m. First adapted for the stage by Vera Caspary and George Sklar, and based off Caspary’s novel, it was produced initially in 1944—the same year a film version was released by Otto Preminger.

Just as it captivated audiences then, so the WCT version did Friday night. The drama itself places much of the weight of its success on the actors, as it largely depends on not just dialogue, but the ponderous exposition of monologues, in the noir style to carry the play’s emotion and complicated plot. Frederickson has assembled a handsome and entertaining production, allowing her actors to maintain the correct flow of intensity and loyalty to their respective characters, in a way that, for the most part, did not detract from the dramas believable suspense and anticipation.

When beautiful Laura Hunt (Amy Anderson) is murdered, via a shotgun blast that destroys her lovely face, Detective Mark McPherson (Steven Sullivan) is brought in to investigate. He’s soon obsessed with the portrait of the victim that hangs in her apartment. It appears as if he is falling in love with the dead woman, and we seem to be in for a humorous, but perverse tale of necrophilia—until the drama takes a massive, but not its only, twist. Laura’s housekeeper, Bessie Clary, (Candy Beck) may not be as loyal as she seems. Danny Dorgan (Kieran Flanagan), the son of the building manager, nurses a secret passion for Laura and her musical fancies. Shady fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Jay Miramontes) is engaged to Laura, but oozes the grease of a possible two-timer.

Building manager Mrs. Dorgan (Julie Breihan) has always hated Laura for her Jazz-influence on her son’s “failed” musical aspirations. The prissy and “precious” antique collector and magazine columnist Waldo Lydecker (Norman Dostal) is obsessed with Laura and bitterly resentful of the he-men to whom she’s attracted. Sullivan’s detective has the right look and bursts with the charisma and individuality that would make us care about him. In the title role, Anderson is charming and credible, and allows enough mystery to surround her underlying motives that puts the audience in the delightfully uncomfortable decision of whether or not to trust her.

Miramontes’ Shelby is shifty and blustery enough to arouse distrust but not to suggest a killer; the occasional stumble over lines also removed some sense of passion and realism to his character at key points in the plot. Beck’s housekeeper contributes the much-needed humor throughout the tense play, and Breihan’s Mrs. Dorgan is persuasive as a mother resentful of Laura for seducing her son away from his classical-music career, and into the debaucheries of Jazz. As Danny, Flanagan captures the boy’s passionate adolescent infatuation with Laura and his fascination with 1940s jazz. But only Dostal, as Waldo, transforms the kind of flamboyant, baroque performance that makes the play come alive.

He nimbly sketches Waldo as a finicky, possessive control freak, seething with resentment and petulant rage; but whose charisma dominates the atmosphere when he is on stage. A puzzling, nail-biting detective story until the curtain falls, the WCT has done it again with, “Laura;” audiences and fans of the playhouse are sure to enjoy this 1944 classic.