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Review: At 2nd Space, ‘A Shot in the Dark’ is buoyed by two great leading performances

Good Company Players

Emily Kearns, left, and Joseph Ham in ‘A Shot in the Dark.’

THEATER REVIEW

The Good Company Players production of “A Shot in the Dark” opened a few weekends ago. I’m late getting to the review, but because it’s a long run, there’s still plenty of time to catch this clever, engaging, extremely well-acted murder romp.

(A momentary digression: I feel as if I’m awash in murder these days. There’s a murder in “Book of Days,” and, of course, the word itself is in the title of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” And then there’s poor Dorothy’s water-fueled homicide in “Wicked.” I’m hoping Tracy Turnblad doesn’t turn a gun on somebody when I see “Hairspray.”)

Marcel Achard’s “A Shot in the Dark” (adapted by Harry Kurnitz) is a period piece, but not the kind of genteel costume drama you often associate with a 2nd Space Theatre production. Set in early 1960s Paris, it captures a gentle, slightly grimy, vibe of the times while retaining its innate Frenchness. (Is that a word?)

Once Hollywood got hold of the play and turned it into an Inspector Clouseau farce in the 1964 film version, the material was thoroughly goofed up and Americanized, but the theatrical version retains its brisk, cosmopolitan, slightly sour sense of humor.

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Here’s a review rundown:

The plot: As a recently appointed police magistrate, Paul Sevigne (played by Joseph Ham) gets assigned his first murder case. It seems to be by the book: Josefa Lantenay (Emily Kearns), a housemaid employed by a wealthy family, appears to have killed her lover in a spat. All Paul has to do is conduct a few interviews, connect the dots and bring Josefa up on charges. But things get complicated. Other witnesses (including Josefa’s husband-and-wife employers, played by Gordon Moore and Marikah Christine Leal) are called in. Can Paul, under pressure from his wife (Kylee Leyva), boss (Henry Montelongo) and clerk (Chase Stubblefield), keep the case from collapsing?

Standout performance No. 1: Ham gives a great comic/dramatic performance that feels textured and alive. His Paul is principled, anxiety-prone and something of a nerd, but there’s also something tenacious and even a little macho about him, and watching Ham bounce between those extremes is fascinating. He’s onstage pretty much the whole time and sets a confident tone for the play.

Standout performance No. 2: Emily Kearns gives an indelible performance that I will recall long after the minutiae of the play has cycled out of my short-term memory. She brings radiance (but also ambiguity) to her Josefa, and her smile seems to launch her words out in sunny little bubbles. Her demeanor is cheery, tart and perplexing; she is accused of murder, but she seems strangely sanguine — and even oblivious — about the whole affair. I loved it.

The rest: Director Denise Graziani keeps a crackling pace yet gives her actors room to meander a bit as they connect with their odd characters. The rest of the ensemble cast is strong.

The takeaway: Of all the murders I’ve been exposed to in recent weeks thanks to the local stage, “A Shot in the Dark” is the one that is closest to the traditional idea of a murder mystery. I’m not usually a huge fan of that genre. But this intriguing romp is oblique enough in terms of style — and so nicely acted and staged — that it’s an easy shot to an entertaining couple of hours.


Show info

‘A Shot in the Dark,’ a Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre. Continues through April 20. Tickets are $20 general, $18 students and seniors.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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