The Encore Theater production of “Night Must Fall” is a little thriller whodunit set in England circa 1935. There’s mystery — nay murder — and a cast of quirky characters in an isolated manor. It’s Agatha Christie-esque, for the mystery-genre buffs out there.
Here’s the plot sans any spoilers: A woman is missing and police are scouring the remote area around the home of wealthy, yet cantankerous, widow Mrs. Bramson, who has two maids and a put-upon niece looking after her.
They soon find a body, just no head. And along comes a mysterious young man who may or may not have something to do with the murder, although he definitely had something to do with the younger maid being with child.
This charming possible murderer soon beguiles the old woman — she hires him as a personal assistant. The suave fellow has a suitcase — a sealed hat box the perfect size for, shall we say, a human head? Is he or isn’t he a killer? That’s the mystery to be solved. But don’t let the hat box fool you. The mystery-genre buffs know all about those red herrings. Sometimes a hat box is just a hat box.
Aimee Bucher is the widow, cranky and rude and snooty and awesome. Her back-and-forth dialogue with the equally cantankerous maid Mrs. Terrance (the one not with child) is priceless. Laura Dunster plays Mrs. Terrance with sass and orneriness. The timing of the lines, the barbs they throw at each other, is spot on and gives the somewhat intense mystery some comic relief.
Doug Norton is Dan, the mysterious charmer. Although he woos the self-centered Mrs. Bramson with ease (and apparently also her young maid), he gives off a strange vibe, picked up on by Mrs. Bramson’s niece, Olivia, who suspects him of the murder. Norton does creepy well, and yes, that’s a compliment.
And Ambyr Rose, as Olivia, does naïve well, because the well-educated Oliva starts to fall for the creep despite the (suspected) homicide and (definite) pregnant maid. There’s no mystery there — we always fall for the bad boys.
The cast also includes Jeff Kerr, as Hubert, the eager suitor to Olivia who’s strung along then dumped after Dan enters the picture. Damn those bad boys. Hubert would have been a safe bet. No sealed hat boxes there. Sarah Bennett is the nurse attendant to the widow and provides more of that comic relief, and Mike Gegel is the inspector who finally finds out whodunit (and that may or may not be Dan).
Ashley Shank is Dora, the knocked-up maid. Ashley does a good job with the simple and jittery Dora, who at the end at the play, even though the mystery is solved, still has to worry about that bun in the oven. But, hey, it’s 1935. Being a single mom shouldn’t be a problem, right? And you’d be jittery, too, if your baby daddy may or may not be a murderer with a creepy sealed-up hat box.
Or, it could just be a hat in the box. You’ll have to wait and see. No spoilers here.
“Night Must Fall” is 2 p.m. Sunday. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sept. 25. For tickets and details, visit http://www.amiltellers.org or call 419-223-8866.