If there were a medal for Bravery in Theater, surely, this season, it would go to the cast and crew at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse for their production of the three-act mystery, Being of Sound Mind.
Despite losing two directors to illness and other non-theater reasons midway through rehearsals; despite losing the two main characters to jobs in Texas a month before opening night; and despite never getting the Forum's two usual lighting designers (again, new jobs interfered), the cast and crew who did jump in to do this show pulled off a near-miracle by providing a fascinating evening of fine opening night entertainment on Thursday.
Credit dedication, professionalism and sheer guts (there's no delicate way of putting it) for turning what could have been a disaster into a most enjoyable, memorable evening. This is a production that should be seen not only for the pleasure of it, but also to show the actors appreciation for work above and beyond the call of duty.
Sound Mind is indeed a mind game. In it, middle-aged married couple John and Susan Pearson (Dalton Benson and Linda Clapsis) are returning to a remote cabin deep in southwest France for a much-needed rest. Susan has just emerged from two months in a mental hospital after collapsing in grief over the death of her father and the miscarriage of a long-hoped-for child.
Susan has irrational fears, especially of cats or anything that looks like a cat, so as they settle in, John thoughtfully stows away a decorative stuffed cat in a dining room hutch cabinet so that Susan won't see it.
A few moments after their arrival, an unexpected visitor shows up, a Mrs. March (Patty Villegas), who says she is the owner of the cabin the couple has rented for the past three years but the Pearsons have never met. She prattles on, guzzling brandy, when she realizes she has no cigarettes. John gallantly offers to drive to town to get her some.
Within moments, Susan finds herself in a raucous quarrel with Mrs. March, which ends when John returns. Only it's not the John that Susan knows. It's some stranger (Michael Shier) who looks like John. Susan collapses in screams.
So what is going on? It's complicated, but playwright Brian J. Burton's intricate script makes it perfectly clear by play's end.
It's this intricate script that forced the recently-recruited players (Benson and Ms. Clapsis) to hold their scripts in hand during opening night of the play, but because of their extraordinary acting skills and smart stage direction by Peter Clapsis, the audience soon forgets and becomes enthralled by the sequence of events. It also helps that the three supporting actors hold their scripts, so that there's consistency in the presentation.
But this is no "reader's theater;" these performers show emotions and move about the stage as though they had all been in rehearsal together for months.
As for the plot, it's obvious that something is out of whack for Susan. Has she had another breakdown? Did she imagine a visit by the landlord? Is John really John? And who in the world would want her to go mad again?
There's money involved — a huge inheritance from her father — but when Susan calls upon her little sister Judy (Jacki Doxey) for support, Judy doesn't seem to mind that Daddy gave all the money to Susan, with the proviso that Susan "be of sound mind" when she came into the money. After all, Judy has a good job and a recent inheritance from her late husband.
John has no apparent reason to want Susan locked away, because if she is, he won't get near a penny of her daddy's money. So what's going on? Has Susan really relapsed into mental illness?
Those who enjoy a good mystery that challenges the mind without any jarring violence will find Sound Mind especially satisfying.
Before the curtain opened, director Clapsis explained the circumstances (holding scripts, etc.) and said if anyone in the audience was dissatisfied with the presentation, the theater would either refund their money or give them $10 credit toward another play.
I think that by play's end, most of us were so enchanted by the content and the performances that we were ready to go buy still more tickets to either see the show again ourselves or to give to friends we know would appreciate the excellent work.