Bernard Slade’s clever and masterful whodunit where duplicity, cunning and deceit promise to keep even the most seasoned theater detectives in suspense until the final moment.
March 23 – April 9, 2017
by Bernard Slade
directed by Edward A. Brennan
Arthur Putnam – MATT CONLON
Julia Putnam – REBECCA EDANA
Simon Putnam – JESSE PIMPINELLA
Detective Sergeant Fred Burchitt – JAMES M. LOTITO, JR.
Holly Adams – AMANDA GRIEMSMANN
Brenda Simmons – MEGGIE DOYLE
Brooke Carmichael – CESA PLEDGER
MATTHEW CONLON (Arthur Putnam) was last seen at HTC as Archer Brown in last fall’s November. He has also appeared here in Hay Fever, Clybourne Park, Harvey, The Foreigner, The Heiress, The Real Thing and The Crucible. Selected NYC: HB Playwrights: The Game of Love and Death (with Herbert Berghof); Freud’s Last Session (with Fritz Weaver) and The Chase; Sonnet Rep: The Tempest; EST: The Traveling Lady; La Mama: A Human Equation. Partial Regional: Penobscot: To Kill a Mockingbird; Bay Street: Men’s Lives; Cleveland Play House: The Importance of Being Earnest; O’Neill: Fuddy Meers; Stage West: Suddenly Last Summer (with Kim Hunter); Mendelssohn: Oedipus Rex. Recent Film: Sweet Lorraine; The Crimson Mask; The Man from the City. TV: Law and Order(s); One Life to Live. Matthew gratefully acknowledges his public primary (Sayville Public Schools) and college education (SUNY Purchase).
MEGGIE DOYLE (Brenda Simmons) is thrilled to make her debut with HTC as Brenda in An Act of the Imagination. She earned her BFA in Acting from Syracuse University in 2009 and is an actor, playwright and staff writer for Reductress, a feminist satire website that parodies articles in the media targeted toward women. Acting credits include The Comedy of Errors; Pericles, Prince of Tyre; The Winter’s Tale; Haunt; The Water Children and The Diary of Anne Frank. Meggie is also the co-librettist of Hot Mess in Manhattan: The Musical and writer of GET IN THE VAN!!!, a web series currently in development. She would like to thank Cait, Mother Darling, and the rest of the family for all their love and support.
REBECCA EDANA (Julia Putnam) is grateful to return to the stage with the Hampton Theatre Company. Most recently she appeared with HTC as Clarice Bernstein in November, Bella in Lost In Yonkers, Jenny in Dead Accounts, and Betsy/Lindsay in Clybourne Park. A SAG-AFTRA actor working in film and TV, Rebecca worked most recently on the web series Vicious Pride of Youth. When not on stage, Rebecca is busy raising her twin boys and singing while folding laundry. A special thank you to my family for the support you show me every day.
AMANDA GRIEMSMANN (Holly) is thrilled to return to the HTC stage following her appearances as Bec in 4000 Miles, Nina in Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls, Jackie Coryton in Hay Fever and Myrtle Mae Simmons in Harvey. She has performed for several seasons in Manhattan with The Inwood Shakespeare Festival. She has also performed with The Lafayette Salon Series, a monthly reading series that meets at The Players Club. A short film entitled Grim Brothers, which she shot last winter, was recently accepted into The Playhouse West Film festival in North Hollywood. This summer she will be working as assistant director to the Quogue Junior Theatre Troupe. A special thanks to Ed for this opportunity! Lots of love to friends and family!
JAMES M. LOTITO JR. (Sgt. Burchitt) makes his HTC debut with this production. James has appeared in dozens of musicals, plays, benefits, and tours including the LI premieres of Blood Brothers (Mickey), Triumph Of Love (Harlequin) and BatBoy the Musical (Dr. Parker), as well as Life Is Shorts, an original play written by LI author Kat O’Neill. Favorite credits include Forever Plaid (Smudge), Phantom of the Opera (Phantom), MSG’s A Christmas Carol (Scrooge, Christmas Present), Chess (Freddie Trumper), Wait Until Dark (Harry Roat), Gigi (Gaston), Rags (Saul), and Assassins (Samuel Byck). James has toured in American Fantasy II, a trip through the history of big movie and Broadway musicals. He also performed in a special production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change that was commissioned for the show’s composer, Jimmy Roberts. A lifetime of thanks to Dr. Ruth Kline, Jim and Becky, and Ed Brennan. For Dina, Jake, and Maxwell.
JESSE PIMPINELLA (Simon) Jesse is humbled to be a part of the Hampton Theatre Company’s production of An Act of the Imagination. Jesse is a recent graduate of Wagner College. He most recently performed in The Mikado (Nanki-Poo) with the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, Off-Broadway. He would like to thank his family and friends for their love and support, Edward Brennan for giving him this opportunity, Chrissie DePierro for all she does for us and, of course, the cast for putting up with him on stage!
CESA PLEDGER (Brooke) is thrilled to make her HTC debut with this production. NYC stage credits include Myopia (Neighborhood Playhouse) and Different Animals (Cherry Lane Theater). TV and film credits include Bruce!!! (2017), I Love You… But I Lied, Accidents and I’d Kill For You. In 2016, Cesa wrote, directed, produced and starred in a short film, Secret, about losing a parent to dementia, that is expected to join the festival circuit in 2017. A native of Manchester, New Hampshire, Cesa graduated from the University of Florida before moving to NYC where she graduated from the Maggie Flanigan Studio’s Meisner program.
BERNARD SLADE (Playwright)’s plays include Same Time, Next Year, Fatal Attraction, Fling!, Tribute, Romantic Comedy, Special Occasions, Return Engagements, I Remember You and Moving. Born in Ontario, Slade began his career there as an actor. He moved to Hollywood where he began to work as a writer for television sitcoms including Bewitched, Love on a Rooftop, The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family and Bridget Loves Bernie. He has received a Drama Desk Award, A Tony Award Nomination and an Oscar Nomination.
EDWARD A. BRENNAN (Director) is thrilled to be directing at HTC again, having done so for their productions of Deathtrap and I Hate Hamlet. He has also appeared with the Hampton Theatre Company as Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls, Angus in The Drawer Boy, Joe Foster in Becky’s New Car, Arbuthnot/Arundel in The Enchanted April, Chief Bromden in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Ralph in Frozen. His directing credits also include Doubt, Crossing Delancey, The Heidi Chronicles, Spring Awakening and South Pacific. Ed holds a Master’s degree in Theater and has directed over 60 productions on Long Island.
SEAN MARBURY (Set Designer) has worked in textile design, built sets for TV series, commercials, and films and worked with the design, engineering and fabrication of race car components. He currently works on high end residential construction. His set designs for HTC include Deathtrap, Other People’s Money, Other Desert Cities, The Foreigner, Harvey, Time Stands Still and November.
SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI (Lighting Designer) has designed all the company’s productions since 2004 as well as the theater’s lighting system. He has designed lighting for theater, dance and special events in a number of Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and regional venues. He has also worked in film and television as the director of photography. He has designed numerous productions for Guild Hall and for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.
TERESA LEBRUN (Costume Designer) is the resident costumer for HTC. She started helping with costumes in 1986 and has designed the costumes for all the company’s productions since 2005. Teresa also costumes for Center Moriches and Westhampton Beach High Schools. She is happy to be working with her dear friend Diana and this amazing cast. Much love to her boys, Josh and Noah, family and great friends.
CHRISSIE DEPIERRO (Stage Manager) is happy to be sharing in the process of bringing An Act of the Imagination together with Ed Brennan after working together last year on An Inspector Calls. To an amazing cast, thank you for making my job so easy. To all the Techs whose talents bring light, sound and life to a once empty stage, you make the magic happen. To her brightest stars near and far, Kristopher, Theresa, Matthew and Samantha, you light up my life.
MARYAM (Rob) DOWLING (Lighting & Sound Technician) has done lighting and sound for 23 years with various theater groups on the East End. Maryam has also helped Sebastian with lighting setup at Guild Hall, the Ross School, and other local venues. This is Maryam’s eighth season with the Hampton Theatre Company and she is very happy to be part of the show and the company.
JULIA MORGAN ABRAMS (House Manager). After retiring from the legal department of Bristol Myers Squibb, Julia began a second career as a volunteer, initially for Literacy Suffolk, HTC and the Southampton Animal Shelter, where she wrote grants and worked in fundraising. She continues to write grants and help with marketing for several local nonprofits. Julia would like to thank all of her dedicated House Assistants for their continued support.
Director – EDWARD A. BRENNAN
Set Design – SEAN MARBURY
Lighting Design – SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI
Set Decor – DIANA MARBURY
Costume Design – TERESA LEBRUN
Stage Manager – CHRISSIE DEPIERRO
Set Construction – SEAN MARBURY, CARLOS BUENO, LUIS CHAVAC, MATTHEW CONLON, ANA GARCIA, ROMANO GUINAN, MICHAEL MORONEY, SEAMUS NAUGHTON, WILSON TRELLES
Sound Design – EDWARD BRENNAN & SEAMUS NAUGHTON
Lighting/Sound Tech – MARYAM DOWLING, SEAMUS NAUGHTON
Box Office – LISA CARR
Production Graphics – JOE PALLISTER
House Manager – JULIA MORGAN ABRAMS
Production Photographer – TOM KOCHIE
DINNER (& LUNCH) AND THEATER PACKAGES:
The Hampton Theatre Company, in conjunction with our local libraries, offers special Dinner (& Lunch) and Theater Packages which offer wonderful events at terrific prices.
There are four packages available for AN ACT OF THE IMAGINATION.
The Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton and the Westhampton Free Library in Westhampton Beach are offering a dinner package on Friday, March 24. Dinner is at Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue at 5 pm, followed by the show at 7 pm. The cost for dinner (including tax and tip) and show is $60. To reserve, please send your check, for $60 per person, to Hampton Theatre Company, PO Box 400, Quogue, NY 11959. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address so that we may email you your tickets. Please reference “March 24 dinner/theater event.”
The Hampton Bays Public Library is offering a dinner package on Friday, March 31. Dinner is at 1 North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays at 5 pm, followed by the show at 7 pm. The cost for the dinner (including tax and tip) and show is $60. To register, please call the Hampton Bays Library at 631-728-6241.
The Quogue Library is offering a dinner package on Thursday, April 6. Dinner is at The Quogue Club at 5 pm, followed by the show at 7 pm. The cost for dinner (including tax and tip) and show is $70. To register, please call the Quogue Library at 631-653-4224 ext. 101. The Quogue Library package is available first to library members. If space is available, others may participate as well.
The Hampton Theatre Company is offering a special new lunch and theater package in conjunction with the new Saturday matinee on Saturday, April 8. Lunch is at The Quogue Club at the Hallock House in Quogue at 12:30 pm, followed by the show at 2:30 pm. The cost for lunch (including tax and tip) and show is $60. To reserve, please send your check, for $60 per person, to Hampton Theatre Company, PO Box 400, Quogue, NY 11959. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address so that we may email you your tickets. Please reference “April 8 lunch/theater event.”
Hampton Theatre Company’s Adaption Of “An Act Of The Imagination” Is Jam-packed With Thrilling Unforeseen Twists And Turns
by T.J. Clemente
An Act of the Imagination by Bernard Slade is a must see! The Hampton Theatre Company is producing the play at the Quogue Community Hall until Sunday, April 9.
Director Edward Brennan is presenting Slade’s (who also wrote Fatal Attraction) play with all the “bells and whistles” of a high priced Broadway show. The sound effects and Sebastian Paczynski’s lighting will absolutely dazzle you!
An Act of the Imagination can be seen through Sunday, April 9. (Photo: Tom Kochie)
Matthew Conlon as Arthur Putnam, mystery writer, not only carries the show, he makes you laugh belly laughs, and think intense thoughts as he commands the stage. Conlon makes Arthur Putnam a likeable character. Just watching his performance alone is worth the price of the ticket, however there is more.
Rebecca Edana also puts in a wonderful performance as Julia Putnam. Ms. Edana has a certain stage presence that invites you to watch her every move. She looks and moves very much like a one-time great tennis player. Kudos to her!
Jesse Pimpinella who plays Arthur’s young adult son, Simon Putnam, also moves around the stage with a convincing grace as he adds to the great energy the show has. His portrayal as the son still attempting to find his groove wins my approval. Amanda Griemsmann is distinctively attention getting as Holly Adams, Mr. Putnam’s script editor. Without doubt Amanda has a bright future on the stage and perhaps film. James M. Lotilo Jr., whose voice beams with authority yet affection, plays the role of Detective Sergeant Fred Burchitt with great verb. Cesa Pledger is very good and very convincing as Brooke Carmichael, and Meggie Doyle as Brenda Simmons is a show within the show; I believe she has a comedic acting career ahead of here worthy of SNL.
The show takes place in the living room-study of a house in Hampstead on the outskirts of London, during several weeks in the spring and summer of 1964. Diana Marbury (Set Décor) and Sean Marbury (Set Design) have created a beautiful set that has ease and warmth. The furnishings are so tasteful I wanted to bring some of them home. Credit must also be given to Stage Manager Chrissie DePierro. Costume Design was also perfect due to the efforts of Teresa LeBrun.
The twists and turns of Slade’s writing along with the great performances of the actors makes An Act of the Imagination so compelling I never moved, always trying to process every new development that almost every line created; yet it was easy to follow such a complicated chain of events with ease. There is a surprise ending.
Lastly, the venue, the Quogue Community Hall, has very comfortable seats and is roomy holding somewhere around 200 people comfortably. Cookies and coffee are sold as well as other soft drinks so it has a Broadway theatre at Starbucks feel.
Mystery ingeniously meets romance.
by Steve Parks
The trouble with a murder-mystery writer switching genres to romance novels is that he may drop too many clues. He calls them “loopholes.” Throughout his career, his detective friend has helped him spot them.
In “An Act of the Imagination” — pay attention to the title — highly successful mystery writer Arthur Putnam’s wife is reading his latest manuscript, “Signs of Love,” a major departure from his literary oeuvre. Julia approves but wonders how he’s made the sex scenes — they haven’t shared intimacies lately — seem so authentic. Memory,” he says, glibly.
Enter Simon, Arthur’s money-pit son. He asks Dad for 3,000 pounds to start a restaurant. Instead, Arthur dispatches him to give his editor a lift. When Holly arrives — Arthur can’t remember her name except that it evokes Christmas — she has time alone with Julia in which her praise of Arthur’s new work suggests it could only have been written by a passion-smitten male.
Bernard Slade, whose career is a reverse image of Arthur’s — he’s best known for his romantic play “Same Time, Next Year” and such TV series as “Bewitched” — wrote this deliciously, devilishly unsolvable mystery in 1987. But the greatest mystery is why it’s never received a major New York production or been adapted as a movie. This ingeniously imaginative play delights and confounds in equal measure as directed at a crisp pace by Edward Brennan for the Hampton Theatre Company.
Matthew Conlon calibrates Arthur’s befuddlement and cunning — he’s a self-distracting eccentric — into a believable package of flawed genius and rectitude. He’s also not much of a dresser, as opposed to his wife, who’s always ready to receive company (frumpy and fashionable costumes by Teresa Lebrun aboard Sean Marbury’s creature-comfort English “cottage” set, lit to melodramatic effect by Sebastian Paczynski). Rebecca Edana as Julia never tips her hand as to whether Arthur is a cheat — or worse — until, well, she does. She’s the fulcrum on which the mystery teeters. Jesse Pimpinella is the perfect spoiled-brat son as Simon while Amanda Griemsmann as Arthur’s editor carries her expository burden with a natural offhand touch. James Lotito Jr. as Arthur’s police friend, plus Cesa Pledger and Meggie Doyle as two shall we say mystery women acquit their roles with aplomb. To say more would be a crime.
And if you love a mystery, it would be a crime to miss this one.
A MYSTERY FOR ANGLOPHILES
by Lorraine Dusky
(The East Hampton Press)
Whodunits have always captured the imagination of readers and theatergoers, and no one does it better than the British. American writers produce legal thrillers and cop shows rife with violence, but what is a large segment of the population tuning into many a Sunday night on the telly?
BBC intellectual mysteries with plots inside of plots and the complicated characters that the Brits specialize in.
Playwright Bernard Slade is no Englishman—he hails from Canada—but his “An Act of the Imagination” is so resolutely English in plot and tone you can practically smell the tea roses. Surely that is the scent that the lead actress, Rebecca Edana, has dabbed behind her ears, in this wickedly good whodunit staged by the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue.
Ms. Edana is Julia Putnam, the English “rose” that a successful mystery writer has snared for his second wife. Matthew Conlon is her husband, Arthur, and he has surprisingly turned out a sensual romance novel, which leads his wife to question the source of the steamy sex scenes he’s written—could her distracted, sometimes dull mate—be having an affair?
In the meantime, Arthur believes that someone is out to get him, and that his own life may be in danger.
A wastrel son, Simon (Jesse Pimpinella), from Arthur’s first marriage lives with the couple, freeloading off his father and siphoning money for one failed enterprise after another.
In marches Brenda (Meggie Doyle), just the sort of lower-class tart one wouldn’t expect the bookish Arthur might have a jolly fling with, but bollocks, why not? Quite a change from his proper wife. Yet the buxom Brenda reveals details and predilections scrupulously that are in sync with Arthur’s character on the page. Supposedly the only people who know what’s in the novel are Julia and Arthur’s editor, Holly (an excellent Amanda Griemsmann). Could Brenda really be the one who had an affair with Arthur? He claims he’s never met the woman!
What real, what’s not, and who could possibly be after Arthur? Others in the cast are James M. Lotito Jr. as Detective Sergeant Burchitt, and Cesa Pledger as Brooke Carmichael, both new to HTC, as is Mr. Pimpinella.
Ms. Edana and Mr. Conlon are well matched as the couple whose marriage needs a bit of plumbing. She gives off a whiff of former sensuality that has been bled away by the treads of time in a comfortable but ho-hum marriage. Mr. Conlon as the always otherwise preoccupied writer is all tweeds, bones and his own blend of tobacco from Dunhill. If we quibble about anything in this overall swell production, it would be that Mr. Conlon explodes at times with decidedly un-Anglican vehemence. A little more of that British reserve might suffice.
Like the writer Arthur whose dabbling in a different genre, the playwright Mr. Slade is not known for mystery, but for light comedy instead. He started in television, writing for sitcoms such as “Bewitched” and later developed “The Flying Nun,” where Sally Field flew about in her habit. His best known stage work, “Same Time Next Year,” was about a couple who are married to others but meet once a year for a weekend. Highly acclaimed in the ’70s, it turned into a successful, but less lauded, film soon after. While “An Act of the Imagination” never opened on Broadway, Slade’s sometimes droll dialogue, as well as the competent troupe under the direction of Edward A. Brennan, let the wit in the writing surface as the plot twists to a satisfying ending. All good.
It’s almost tiresome to say once again how good the circa-1964 drawing-room set is, for the duo of Sean and Diana Marbury, who typically do the sets and décor at HTC, always amaze (this is local theater, not Broadway) and delight. This drawing room has (dried) blood-red walls, elaborate valances, bookcases, urns (with Arthur’s dead wife’s ashes?), artwork, and a small painted chest that together positively scream upper-class England. If the Marburys are for hire, they could do my home anytime.
Costume designer Teresa LeBrun’s 1960s outfits for the women are spot on, down to the circle pin Julia wears on a plaid dress, and Holly’s stiff headband.
Admittedly, I sometimes grouse about the choices of the selection committee at HTC who pick the plays. Not this time. Not with this band of actors. If you like BBC mysteries, “An Act of the Imagination” will tickle yours.
All in the Imagination: HTC’s Devious Murder Mystery
by Beth Young
(EAST END BEACON)
The mood is a character in Hampton Theatre Company’s spring mystery production of Bernard Slade’s “An Act of the Imagination,” which opened this weekend at the Quogue Community House.
Top-notch acting, Diana Marbury’s lush Victorian set, Sebastian Paczynski’s masterful lighting, and the Mozart-infused opening scenes conspire to create an illusion of rigid and proper decorum, which rapidly unravels in the second act as the truly wretched desires of these characters are unveiled.
The play opens in the living room and study of a house in the intellectual north London suburb of Hampstead, where Julia Putnam has just finished reading her mystery writer husband Arthur’s first romance manuscript, a puzzlement, since their love life is anything but romantic.
And that’s where the decorum begins to break down, in an onion of affairs wrapped inside murder mysteries, thunderclaps and Beethoven, in a bloody trail through the heath on the outskirts of town.
There’s a play-within-a-play in this show, and it’s fitting that the play is “Gas Light,” because by the time you are through watching, you will likely question your sanity.
This is the first of director Edward A. Brennan’s productions that I’ve seen at HTC, but as a veteran actor of this company, he seems to have coaxed the best out of this cast of both fellow HTC regulars and several newcomers who add a lot to this production. Every performance here was rock solid.
Rebecca Edana, who most recently appeared as speechwriter Clarice Bernstein in last fall’s HTC production of “November,” is horridly devious and quite surprising in her role as Julia Putnam. Once again, she floored me with the far range from her last role at HTC.
Matthew Conlon, whom you may have last seen as presidential crony Archer Brown “November,” is delightfully daft (or is he really?) as Arthur Putnam, who accepts the plot that’s forced upon him with sheepish shrugs and frequent trips to his sideboard bar.
Amanda Griemsmann, who last appeared as Becky in HTC’s winter production of “4000 Miles,” comes off as sweet and daft as Arthur Putnam’s editor, Holly. But her penchant for unraveling mysteries only further deepens the intrigue here.
Jesse Pimpinella, who plays Arthur Putnam’s scheming son Simon, first comes off as a spoiled young pugilist, but he is a really horrid villain. I hope he comes back and scares Quogue audiences some more.
The two other HTC debuts, Meggie Doyle as fleeting flirt Brenda Simmons and James M. Lotito as kind-hearted and dutiful Sgt. Burchitt, add a crazy pizzaz and a steady pace to this play, respectively. I hope they come back. They were thoroughly delightful.
There is some gunfire in this play, so please, don’t be scared…
AN ACT OF THE IMAGINATION at The Hampton Theatre Company
by Melissa Giordano
Canadian playwright Bernard Slade is perhaps best known for his 1975 Broadway debut play Same Time, Next Year in addition to his TV credits. Out of his usual comedic realm, Mr. Slade proves versatile with this gripping British who-dun-it play, An Act of the Imagination, currently being presented by the Hampton Theatre Company through April 9th at the Quogue Community Hall.
The tale centers on mystery novelist Arthur Putnam who, like Mr. Slade, has written a manuscript that is not of his usual genre. Once he gets his wife’s approval of the adulterous romance novel, things begin to happen. The many twists and turns will truly keep you on the edge of your chair for the entire production. And if at any moment you think you’ve figured it out, think again.
Directed excellently by Edward A. Brennan, Matthew Conlon strongly leads the cast as Arthur. Mr. Conlon particularly balances Arthur’s perplexity and shrewdness well. Arthur’s second wife, Julia, portrayed ideally by Rebecca Edana, is indeed the hinge of this tale. And Jesse Pimpinella portrays a perfect annoying, spoiled, mooching son in the role of Simon – Arthur’s son, not Julia’s. Also a highlight is Long Island theatre vet James M. Lotito, Jr. who is superb as Detective Sergeant Fred Burchitt. Add in Amanda Griemsmann, Meggie Doyle, and Cesa Pledger as, shall we say, some mysterious ladies, and you’ll be thoroughly absorbed with this stupendous cast and show.
Mr. Brennan’s creative team is terrific as well. As you walk into the intimate theatre, you’ll immediately notice the gorgeous drawing room set done by Sean Marbury. Warm, rich colors fill the stage with a sophisticatedly furnished décor done by Diana Marbury (These two always have such great taste). This is stunningly enhanced by Teresa LeBrun’s top-notch costumes (the ladies dresses are gorgeous) and the wonderful lighting and sound design by Sebastian Paczynski and Rob Dowling, respectively.
And so, An Act of the Imagination, is indeed another hit for the Hampton Theatre Company. They wrap up their 32nd season with their next show, Alarms & Excursions, which begins Memorial Weekend. It would certainly be a crime to miss this.
The Hamptons Theatre Company’s Surprising Whodunit
by Kurt Wenzel
(East Hampton Star)
A wealthy novelist husband. A hot-to-trot stepmother. A ne’er-do-well son. A loaded gun. What could possibly go wrong?
This is the question asked by the playwright Bernard Slade in the Hampton Theatre Company’s production of “An Act of the Imagination,” currently running at the Quogue Community Hall through April 9. This twisty, surprising whodunit will satisfy fans of murder mysteries despite its occasional lack of narrative momentum. Viewers who can hang on through the draggier moments will be richly rewarded.
The play, set just outside London in the mid-1960s, is a classic British mystery in the style of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, though with a slightly nastier, post-modern sensibility. Arthur Putnam is a successful mystery writer who has just completed a new novel, the plot of which seems to echo events not only in his own life, but in the play we are watching (this is a play within a book within a play).
Is Arthur unfaithful, like the hero in his novel? He denies it, but his wife and editor aren’t so sure. Is someone trying to frame him for murder? Most definitely. Toss in a vain, money-sponging son and a mysterious woman with blackmail on her mind, and you have the makings of an enjoyably devilish night of theater.
Mr. Slade is also the author of “Same Time, Next Year,” which chronicled a couple who carry on an annual tryst for two decades. “An Act of the Imagination” is a more frivolous tale, though it does make a few stabs at profundity as Arthur tries to explain how authors cannibalize their own lives for material. Most audience members won’t find much nourishment in these metaphysical musings about the relationship between a writer and the imagination, but Mr. Slade’s talent for twisty plot points will have viewers surprised and occasionally gasping. There is even a sign as you enter the theater, warning that the play involves the simulation of weaponry. Yes, shots will be fired, and even though you know it’s coming you may find yourself flinching.
Although the actors’ English accents vary in verisimilitude under Edward A. Brennan’s direction, the cast is generally superb. Rebecca Edana, excellent in last year’s H.T.C. production of “Lost in Yonkers‚“ is very good as Arthur’s much younger wife, Julia. And Jesse Pimpinella is suitably creepy as the scheming son, Simon.
There is a draggy moment or two near the end of the first half (the play could probably be 15 minutes shorter), but then Meggie Doyle arrives as the blackmailing Brenda Simmons and livens things up considerably, bringing both energy and moxie to the potentially cliched role of the calculating floozy. And Matthew Conlon is absolutely outstanding as Arthur, the self-proclaimed “stodgy” author. Mr. Conlon alternates from absent-minded narcissism (can Arthur be losing his mind?) to lucid fury at finding himself the victim of a vicious plot. It’s hard to imagine this role performed with more range or complexity.
As for the plot, it’s no use to trying to fathom just exactly what is going on and with whom — even the most veteran of mystery fans will find their best guesses overturned.
Despite its protracted length, “An Act of the Imagination” is beautifully constructed and full of satisfying misdirections, though it is unclear why it feels the need to punctuate these moments with heavy-handed sound effects. As the climax nears and the plot goes into overdrive, the phrase “cue the thunder” begins to take on almost comic overtones.
Dana Marbury’s set, on the other hand, finds just the right tone for this prosperous literary family, in which all is perfect yet not quite right. So does most everything else in “An Act of the Imagination.” Its giddy immorality will have you feeling virtuous by comparison.
FROM SUNRISE HIGHWAY (ROUTE-27):
Sunrise Highway (Route 27) to exit 64S (Rte. 104 to Quogue). Rte. 104 South (approx. 3 miles) to Montauk Highway (Rte. 80). Right onto Montauk Highway to light at Otis Ford (1 mile). Left onto Jessup Avenue. 1/2 mile to theater (on right).
FROM MONTAUK HIGHWAY (ROUTE-80):
Montauk Highway to light at Otis Ford in Quogue. South onto Jessup Avenue. 1/2 mile to theater (on right).
PARKING & ACCESSIBILITY
PARKING: There is limited street parking around the theater as well as a parking lot that can be entered just north of the Quogue Community Hall.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: The theater is wheelchair accessible through the side entrance. If a member of your party needs wheelchair access, please come to front entrance and ask the person taking tickets to open the side door. If a member of your party requires a wheelchair in the theater, please reserve one seat at the end of a row.
ASSISTED LISTENING DEVICES: The theater does not have assisted listening devices at this time.