Saturday, October 17, 2020

353. NIGHT WATCH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Joan Hackett, Len Cariou.
NIGHT WATCH [Drama/Crime/Marriage/Mystery] A: Lucille Fletcher; D: Fred Coe; S: George Jenkins; C: Donald Brooks; L: Tharon Musser; P: George W. George and Barnard S. Straus; T: Morosco Theatre; 2/28/72-6/11/72 (121)

Len Carious, Elaine Kerr, Joan Hackett.

This first Broadway play by Lucille Fletcher (“Sorry, Wrong Number”), a highly successful writer for film, television, and radio, is a brooding mystery drama set in an expensive Manhattan apartment occupied by a neurotic, insomniac heiress, Elaine (Joan Hackett). She claims she has seen, in the window of a tenement across the way, a man’s horribly murdered corpse. The police investigation turns up neither corpse nor other evidence of foul play. It’s suggested that the woman’s story is fantasy. 

Eventually, the cops ignore her frantic calls. Her stockbroker husband (Len Cariou) attempts to soothe her and, among other things, proposes that she travel to a Swiss clinic for therapy. His motives, however, are made to seem nefarious. It’s clear that he’s having an affair with his wife’s friend (Elaine Kerr). The play ends with the surprise device of the wife having been the scheming genius behind the entire plot.

Joan Hackett, Keene Curtis.

Joan Hackett’s performance as the high-strung Elaine was masterful. Both she and the play were accorded several strong notices. Clive Barnes was pleased at this “most superior thriller . . . , which from its first blood-curdling scream to its last charming surprise is a first-class example of its genre.”

Fletcher’s characters, dramatic tension, and Hitchcockian suspense kept many on the edges of their seats. The play offered Douglas Watt “a satisfying series of surprises,” and fulfilled for Richards Watts “all the requirements for an evening of satisfying menace and mystification.” Martin Gottfried, however, claimed it was burdened with clich├ęs and “unnecessary” persons and scenes, lacked mystery, was poorly acted, and was “never interesting and often trying.” And Walter Kerr assailed it for too many red herrings and a vastly confusing plot.

The cast included Keene Curtis, Jeanne Hepple, Martin Shakar, William Kiehl, Barbara Cason, and Rudy Bond.