Theatre 40’s revival of Dangerous Corner, J.B. Priestley’s 1932 London and
Broadway mystery thriller, is both a well realized period play, with attention paid
to costumes, hair, and set design, and a surprisingly modern piece of theater,
with its plot twists that any contemporary playwright would be proud of. Fast
paced, well acted and directed, and authentically designed to take the
audience back seventy-five years, Dangerous Corner is a suspenseful and
conversation-provoking treat.

In a darkened living room, party guests are listening to a “turgid (radio)
melodrama” entitled The Sleeping Dog. The lights come up on an elegantly
dressed trio of attractive young women and an older female mystery novelist.
They discuss the possible meaning of the title. Does it mean that the lead
character (“the sleeping dog”) lies, i.e. tells lies? Or are there some secrets that
are better not revealed, i.e. let sleeping dogs lie? Joined by the husbands of two
of the women and the third woman’s fiancé, conversation turns to the
“dangerous corners” we encounter in life as we “skid around a corner at 60 miles
per hour.” What is the truth? they ponder. Are the facts, asks one of them, only
half of the truth?

The hosts of the dinner party are Robert, the head of a publishing firm, and his
wife Freda. Their guests are Gordon and his wife Betty, Charles and his fiancée
Olwen, and novelist Miss Mockeridge. They begin to discuss the apparent suicide
of Robert’s younger brother Martin, apparently due to the guilt he felt over
having stolen a large sum of money from the firm. When Olwen remarks that she
has already seen the black lacquered box on the mantle (which had belonged
to Martin), questions begin to arise. How could she have seen it? Who was the
last person to see Martin alive? Why did Martin tell two people two different
stories about who he suspected had stolen the money? And this is just the tip of
the iceberg, leading to a shocking revelation, and lights down on Act 1.

In many ways Dangerous Corner is as contemporary as a nighttime soap, as, one
after another, characters are revealed to be in love, though not with their
spouse or fiancé/e. Also, one tends to forget that unlike Hollywood movies of the
era , Broadway plays in the 30s through the 50s were much more willing to deal
with taboo themes; Martin, it seems, was the great love of one of the men. And
in a brilliant final twist, Priestly allows us to see to what extent a single word
(spoken or unspoken) can have fateful and far-reaching consequences.

Director Bruce Gray has kept the pace snappy and the characters in motion, a
must in a “drawing room” drama, and his cast of seven (Joe Briggs, Christine
Joëlle, Laura Jones, Julie Lancaster, Grinnell Morris, Shawn Savage, and Nan
Tepper) all have excellent moments. The outstanding Lancaster and Morris, as
Freda and Robert, are especially adept at recreating the sophisticated and
slightly heightened speech and manner of the 30s.

The design team is also first rate, with special mention due to Jeff G. Rack’s
beautifully detailed set, with its marble fireplace, period black and white photos,
books, clocks, and the large radio console. Lani Bartlett’s costumes capture the
look of the period (though the seamless stockings are an anachronism). With the
men’s hair slicked back and the women’s in elegant chignons, only Jones’ do
seems a bit anachronistic. Meghan Hong captures the warm light of a room lit
by table and wall lamps, and Marc Olevin’s sound design incorporates
authentic sounding radio dramas.

Dramaturge Jan Fischer, working with director Gray and Priestley’s original British
script, has been able to flesh out the characters from Priestley’s American version
as adapted by Andrew Robinson.

Far more than most 1930s plays, Dangerous Corner is surprisingly undated, and as
staged by Theatre 40 is a gripping and suspenseful hour and a half of
crackerjack entertainment.

Reuben Cordova Theatre on the Campus of Beverly Hills High School
241 S Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
October 16, 2007
Photos: Ed Krieger

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