ROSWELL, Ga. — Georgia Ensemble Theatre has offered up a delicious concoction just in time for Halloween with the psychological thriller “Night Must Fall” by Emlyn Williams.
Set in a suitably remote cottage in 1935 New England, Williams’ play was first performed on the London stage in 1935. It echoes Agatha Christie and Stephen King but pays no allegiance to either.
In it, we meet Mrs. Branson (Susan Shaloub Larkin), a cantankerous old hypochondriac who rules her little domain, a cottage ensconced in the New England countryside, with an iron hand and acidic tongue.
First among her subjects is her young niece Olivia (Christina Leidel) who lives on an allowance from her aunt but is merely one more foil for the dowager aunt’s household. Olivia has a feckless suitor (Doyle Reynolds), but she knows she doesn’t love him, yet she is too afraid of the world to leave her aunt’s employ to find if not true happiness, at least a life of her own.
Soon after the curtain rises, a stranger named Dan (Jonathan Horne} appears and inserts himself into the household, first as the handyman. But he quickly ingratiates himself to Mrs. Branson, and she is smitten by the attentions of this darkly handsome young man who quickly inserts himself in the household and takes to calling Mrs. Branson “Mother.”
His arrival into the household coincides with the disappearance of a young woman at a nearby hotel, leading Olivia and the servants to let their imaginations and their suspicions to play out.
Is handsome Dan really the poor young ne’er-do-well who only needs the stability he never had as a child? Or has he gone over to the dark side? And if not Dan, who is responsible for the missing woman?
Who indeed? The play is a mark of GET’s maturity. It is a fine cast with outstanding performances by Larkin as Mrs. Branson and Horne as mysterious Dan.
Stirring the pot is director Shannon Eubanks. She exhibits a deft hand in transitioning from comedy to drama to suspense in alternate scenes. There is laughter and there is menace which must come to a climax. And?
Well, that is this Halloween confection, served up with aplomb by GET. Kudos also goes to the lighting, sound and production pros who create the ambiance in which this tale is told. Again, this is mature theater for discerning audiences. Why settle for reruns of “Psycho” or “House of Blood” this Halloween season when you can see it up close, personal and in (living?) color.
“Night Must Fall” runs through Nov. 10 at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St., Roswell.
For tickets, visit get.org/night-must-fall/ or call 770-641-1260.