In Dangerous Corner, we see that as good as the truth might be, too much can stir up some rather serious trouble. Geoff Gruson directs the Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of the psychological thriller/ mystery written by J.B. Priestley, best known for An Inspector Calls.
Dangerous Corner is one of Priestley’s “time plays” where he plays with J.W. Dunne’s theory of time. Dunne believed that past, present and future all take place simultaneously and it’s our consciousness that keeps us from seeing outside of the piece of time we’re “meant” to look at. While this idea may have inspired Priestley, the script seems to play more with the idea of alternative realities stemming from one key event similar to the premise of the movie, The Butterfly Effect.
The setup is a dinner party at the country home of Robert Caplan, the head of a small publishing house. We meet Robert’s wife Freda, business partners Charles and Gordon, secretary Olwen, Gordon’s wife, Betty and Miss Mockridge, a famous writer. We soon learn that there’s a ghost at the party too, that of Martin Caplan, Robert’s brother who died in an apparent suicide a year earlier.
In the first act, the characters tune in to a couple minutes of a radio play, The Sleeping Dog. Olwen remarks that the truth is like a sleeping dog, better left alone. Before long, another simple remark about a musical cigarette box takes the evening’s conversation around a “dangerous corner.” Robert starts asking questions and everything is put in motion for a dastardly unravelling. Everyone at the party save for Miss Mockridge has kept their share of dirty secrets – trysts, affections, habits and betrayals.
Taken together the truth behind their lies is they all had some part in Martin’s death. We watch as a world of illusions comes tumbling down around the characters, falling heaviest on Robert. As the revelations take the characters into soap opera territory we in the audience share the pain of too much information. By the end, the characters’ relationships are in shambles, a mess unimaginable in the first scene. Turns out living with illusions is sometimes the safer bet.
While the show starts off with a shaky exposition, the action really takes off in the second half where everything becomes much louder and more intense. Some might feel the acting is over-the-top here but it’s entertaining nonetheless. One issue with this production is that it’s billed as a thriller but fails to deliver on the expectation of tension – built slowly and held taut until the climax. Whatever sense of tension the cast works up is broken by several emotional explosions as the characters reveal various dark truths. The outbursts add up in sucking the power out of what was surely meant to be the climatic moment.
Venetia Lawless (Freda Caplan) brings the most nuance to her performance, playing Freda as passionate and conflicted. Dale MacEachern’s Robert Caplan for the most part, stumbles about unaware of the wrath he is egging on, though he does a great job with Robert’s breakdown after the last of the dirty secrets has come out. He delivers a rage and desperation we can feel.
Chantal Plante’s Olwen is amusing to watch as a quiet woman growing more and more flustered as she struggles to keep her own (quite scandalous) secret hidden. Philip Merriman’s Gordon Whitehouse is hot-headed and difficult, often stomping about like a toddler in a tantrum. As Charles Stanton, Jarrod Chambers is aloof, distant and a touch tough to read while Heather Archibald’s Betty Whitehouse plays a shallow though stereotypical pretty, young thing.
Tim Ginley’s set design successfully captures a comfortable, prosperous atmosphere for the Caplan’s drawing room, complete with a fireplace and mantel and lots of dark wood. The tranquility of the space proves a good counterpoint to the chaos that unfolds. Liane Racette and Tatiana Blanco also do a solid job of setting the scene with their wardrobe and hair design work. The characters were done up quite convincingly as prosperous Brits in the early ‘30s. The giant projected clock is a creative and very effective device that supports the script’s alternative reality theme.
Overall, Dangerous Corner is an enjoyable show if you can handle the strong emotions of people losing all their illusions in one fell swoop. Plus, it packs a powerful message about the nature of truth, lies and secrets that stays with you long after the curtain falls.
Dangerous Corner is on at the Ottawa Little Theatre (400 King Edward Ave.) until June 27. Tickets are $25, $22 for seniors and $12 for students. For tickets and more info, click here.