Thriller in Petrolia

I’ll Be Back Before Midnight
Written by Peter Colley
Directed by Robert More
Performed by Susie Burnett, Terry V. Hart, Andy Pogson, Elana Post
Theatre Orangeville/Victoria Playhouse Production
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
June 30 to July 18, 2009

Live! On Stage!
By Mary Alderson

If you enjoy a thriller with dark moments of horror, then you’ll like I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, currently running at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.
Jan (Susie Burnett) is just out of the hospital after an extended stay, and her husband Greg (Andy Pogson) decides that relaxation in a desolate country farmhouse is just what she needs. The farmer next door (and owner of the house), George, (drops by and mentions that it’s haunted, of course. Then Greg’s sister comes to visit, much to Jan’s dismay… and that’s all that can be told without spoiling the thrills and chills.
The first act is slow to unfold. But that is an inherent problem with a murder mystery or thriller story. Setting up the mystery requires a lot of exposition: the audience needs to know all the characters and understand how they came to be in this house, and pains must be taken to make it all plausible. If the playwright asks too much of the audience, they won’t be open to the big scares. The writer also has to set up the killer, ensuring that it’s feasible, and then set up the “red herrings” so that the audience starts guessing who is going to die and “who done it”.
In act two, the action takes place, and certainly in this story there is plenty as it builds to the conclusion. Susie Burnett is good as the troubled wife – the character waivers between nervousness, giddiness and anger. Burnett will be remembered for her past roles in farces at VPP, such as Too Many Cooks and Confessions of a Dirty Blonde. She proves she can handle mystery as well as comedy. Andy Pogson is excellent as the loving husband and brother – he’s had experience at VPP’s thrillers – he was the bumbling idiot in 2004’s Thumbs. In 2006, he played the pot-smoking son in one of my favourites, Test Drive. Elana Post is great as the sister with attitude, and she wears her make-up well. Terry V. Hart provides the comedy as George the farmer – when Greg introduces his wife, George assumes they are newlyweds, but Greg explains she’s not a new bride. “Very few are these days,” George quips. Hart is skilled at getting the audience on his side, having them laughing, and then surprising them. His humourous performance is reminiscent of Tom Poston’s portrayal of George Utley, the Stratford Inn handyman on the 1980’s TV show, Newhart.
The set — a realistic farmhouse living room – is very well done, and the special effects impressive. The lighting is excellent, taking us back and forth between dim nights to bright lights: possibly one of the best-lit shows at VPP.
This play was first performed at the Blyth Festival in 1979. It’s interesting to see the changes in 30 years. Groceries arrive in brown paper bags. The cassette tape player has an important role, as does the dial phone. The lack of cell phones is certainly a key factor – if characters could easily call police, the action would come to an early end.
In a salute to the late Michael Jackson, his song Thriller was playing as the audience left the theatre on opening night.
I’ll Be Back Before Midnight continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 18. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.