EARTH AND SKY: A Poetic Murder Mystery

by Ronald Comer

Members of the cast of Old Academy Players' EARTH AND SKY, running in Philadelphia, PA through May 12.

Written by Douglas Post in the noir style of Chandler and Hammett, EARTH AND SKY was first staged in New York in 1991. From the opening scenes the play’s heroine is thrust into a confusing world of contradictions and danger which she steadfastly confronts in her naive search for the truth surrounding the brutal murder of her newly found lover.

Alexandra Bailey plays Sara McKeon, a librarian with a love for reading and writing poetry, who has met and fallen for a handsome restaurant manager, David Ames, played by Paul Del Signore.  They had been seeing each other for only two months when she receives a visit from two detectives informing her that he has been shot and killed. Norman Burnosky, does a good job as the streetwise detective and Ken Wilson is perfect as the second detective, in what seems a “good-cop, bad-cop” partnership. It soon becomes obvious to Sara that the detectives appear more intent on pointing out the possible involvement of her lover in a former violent crime than in solving this one. So, in order to vindicate her love for him, our heroine decides to pursue her own investigation into the murder of this man she only briefly knew.

In her attempts to uncover on her own the truth behind David’s death, she encounters elements of Chicago’s underbelly not commonly seen in her regular work at the library. There’s the cynical, seen-it-all, bartender at the dive near where David’s body was found, played by Jarrett Destouet, who provides just enough information to compel her search forward. Then, there are two hoodlum types Sara confronts because they may have stories to share regarding their past alleged relationships with David. Both Jim Golden, as Carl Eisenstadt, and Thomas Abraham, as Julius Gatz, turn in somewhat overdrawn portrayals of their otherwise sinister criminal characters producing a few audience chuckles rather than the chills their scenes deserved. And finally, there is the lover’s former bimbo, a noir requisite, played by Donna Bencivengo.

Though warned away from pursuing her own investigation by one of the detectives, Sara is able to confide and receive some degree of support from another librarian, Joyce, played with just the right touch of sympathy and concern by Brenna McBride. Scenes come in rapid succession and are interspersed with several flashbacks in which we see the developing relationship between Sara and David played in reverse order. This device of the playwright allows the audience inside Sara’s desperate struggle to overcome the twists and turns she encounters and to slowly begin fitting pieces of the puzzle together.

The play runs about 100 minutes without intermission, the purpose being to keep the audience continuously engaged in the unfolding mystery. It is a demanding play to stage in such an intimate theatre due to the several scene changes and at times, quite frankly, the stage seems a bit crowded. It is also demanding, particularly for the heroine, who is in every scene and must show a range of emotions from vulnerability in her growing love for David, to anxiety, fear and determination as she decides and acts on her resolve to prove others wrong about her trust in him. The opening performances were uneven in rising to meet the various demands of this otherwise highly regarded murder mystery. I suspect that as the actors settle in following their opening weekend more of the genuine intensity and dramatic elements contained within this fast-moving story will be more effectively told.

by Douglas Post
Directed by Barbara Pease Weber
April 27, 28, May 4, 5, 11, 12, 2012
Old Academy Players
3534-3544 Indian Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129

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