CAT dives into compelling mystery with Evelyn Strange

Central Alberta Theatre is offering a new dinner theatre production with a distinctly unique flair – Evelyn Strange runs through to April 9th at the North Hill Quality Inn.

Directed by Tara Rorke, the mystery/drama was penned by Stewart Lemoine.

Things kick off in a luxury opera box in New York City. We meet the beautiful and charming Nina Ferrer who, along with one of her husband’s employees, is settling in for a dreary night of music – that’s how Nina feels anyways. The gentleman, Perry Spangler, is only there because his boss asked him to be there as an escort for Nina.

These two almost instantly connect and all is well until a mysterious woman slips in behind them only to slip out just as quickly. Nina doesn’t even notice her, but Perry does – and so begins a play that has more twists in it than one could imagine. The woman – who goes by the name of Evelyn Strange – is an oddball all right. But as the story unfolds, it’s clear she had been stricken by a case of amnesia.

But why? What caused it?

Then a dead man is found in Central Park – whose identity is quite the stunner to the characters in the story. Is there a connection to Evelyn? And if so, how? Tensions increase as secrets spill out, and it all leads to a compelling conclusion.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot; suffice it to say it’s a terrifically written story by Lemoine, whose polished, sophisticated writing style is a real delight to take in.

And the cast is outstanding from start to finish – three of them will likely be recognizable to local audiences. Nicole Leal, to begin with, is perfect for the role of Evelyn.

She has a knack for appearing to be all there, and then slipping into another vein of behaviour entirely and almost imperceptibly. It’s obviously a complex role, but Leal handles it all with just the right emphasis and poise. Evelyn’s bizarre story comes to light – slowly and steadily – but it’s an enjoyable and enticing tale to take in, thanks to Leal’s thorough understanding of her character.

Paul Sutherland is another one of our local greats, as is Ryan Mattila. They’ve proven their abilities time and again with several City theatre troupes over the years, and it’s no different this time around.

Sutherland has a knack for simply just becoming his characters – his skill at doing so is really amazing. As Spangler, he’s a man of integrity and impeccable manners. And he isn’t truly thrown off by the increasing chaos around him, which is sometimes baffling and downright disturbing. In some ways, he’s the ‘rock’ in the drama, and I can’t think of an actor who really could have nailed it quite as well.

Much the same can be said for Mattila. As Spangler’s co-employee Lewis Hake, Mattila brings out a certain smarminess that fits with Hake’s dubious motives and unsavoury lifestyle perfectly. But all along, he is also perfectly likable. Not an easy thing to pull off, but Mattila’s range and ability to capture emotions from desperation to charm to anger to deviousness shines through at every turn.

The newcomer to the CAT stage is Elysha Snider as Nina. Hopefully we will see much more of her in future productions – Snider is simply terrific as Nina. This woman, like Evelyn, has an abundance of secrets and inevitably, she has to face the truth. Also, Nina is on the outside an upstanding citizen – but her life behind the scenes isn’t spotless by any means. Snider brings it all to the table with style and emotional force – Nina is always fun to watch whether it’s in her playful dialogue or blistering scolding of Hake.

Congrats, of course, must go to Rorke. I can only imagine what a blast it was to put this play together, and to have the chance to work with such a gifted bunch of people. Her dedication to offering audiences a well-crafted play that is technically precise while still retaining an authenticity to the period (the 1950s) topped off with just the right amount of emotional push is really terrific.

Kudos also to costume designer Jesslyn Miller for capturing the look of the 1950s so well.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – it’s good to see CAT treading more and more into this kind of territory. It’s fresh, intriguing, a challenge to casts and a treat for audiences.

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