CAT launches New Year with Cliffhanger

Performances run through to Feb. 2nd at the Black Knight Inn

Central Alberta Theatre is exploring comparatively dramatic territory with its first dinner theatre of the season.

Cliffhanger, penned by James Yaffe and directed by Michael Sutherland, runs through to Feb. 2nd at the Black Knight Inn. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. with the play to follow.

The play – which was published in the mid-1980s – focuses on a college professor and his wife (Henry and Polly Lowenthal) who, through a bizarre turn of events, find themselves in quite the moral quagmire.

Henry is played by another very recognizable CAT alumnus Bob Greig, with Liz Bennett as Polly.

According to the synopsis, “Mingling suspense and humour, this ingeniously plotted thriller follows all the unexpected twists and turns that result when a seemingly mild-mannered professor of philosophy is driven to apparent murder to protect his reputation and career.”

Things get ugly when Henry and a colleague by the name of Edith Wilshire meet to talk about changes to Henry’s department.

Turns out Edith is just plain rude, icy and condescending. And she makes no secret about how she feels about Henry, suggesting it’s high time he called it quits and retire. Reasons for her resentment surface as the conversation continues.

Finally, Henry just can’t take the insults anymore. You get the picture.

And that’s where the story starts to take shape.

It also just so happens that one of Henry’s students, Melvin, gets involved with the tangled mix as he has certain knowledge about what Henry has been up to.

A detective by the name of Dave DeVito also enters the picture so of course the pressure really starts to build.

Jaret Pack stars as Melvin McMullen with Ryan Mattila as DeVito and Cynthia Edwards rounding out the fine cast.

It’s really Greig’s show, as he’s at the centre of pretty much everything that goes on.

Greig is solid in the lead role, as is Bennett who, although she appears quite docile at first, is really the devious mastermind behind how her husband navigates the horrendous fall-out from his actions.

Bennett does a superb job of being all ‘sweet and innocent’ on the outside while wielding a cold, even diabolical streak on the inside. Bennett, all charm and graciousness, pulls it off convincingly.

Pack is also tremendous as the spoiled student who is used to getting things his way, but ends up stuck in Henry’s web. And although she’s only onstage for a relatively short time, Edwards puts her all into her portrayal of the icy Edith. Edwards has that rare ability to interpret pretty much any kind of character with a striking precision and her own engaging style, and this role is no exception to that.

And Mattila, with his natural charm and charisma, can always be counted on to bring his all to any performance – even ones like this that are of a supportive nature.

This marks Sutherland’s first time directing a major production on his own, and he’s done a nice job of tying it all together and bringing out the best in his cast.

My main criticism, and keep in mind it was preview night when I saw the show, was that there were draggy moments.

I think in general, some of the the cast members needed to react more visibly and strongly to each other and just all-round fire things up a bit. That comes with repeated shows.

Ultimately, when a story is compelling in and of itself, actors need to match that intrinsically brisk pace.

Again, that no doubt will come as the show officially opens and kicks into high gear.

For tickets, visit www.tickets.blackknightinn.ca.

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