Preceding last night’s performance of the suspense thriller Suffer The Long Night, Merrillville Merry Art Players’ Chairwoman Meredith Lipschitz-Sinclair announced that the roles of all but 4 cast members would be taken over by understudies.  Lipschitz-Sinclair, who a mere two seasons ago wowed audiences as both Martha in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and Laura in The Glass Menagerie, apologized for the last minute cast changes, but assured her audience that the show would go on, as go on it did, though not without mishaps.

Fortunately, the apparently flu-immune Lipschitz-Sinclair was able to assume her role as terrorized and terrified housewife and mother Vera Burling.  Merry Art favorite Thom Elam, another flu-resistant thespian, undertook not only his usual role as Vera’s husband Bob, but like the stage vet he is, went on as Bob’s mother Grandmother Burling and, when disaster struck mid-performance last night, donned toupee and mustache to cover the role of Detective Beck (who fortunately did not share any scenes with either Bob or Grandmother).  Mitzi Becker, Merry Art Players’ perennial ingénue, proved herself a real trouper by going on despite a red and runny nose, coughs, and sneezes that occasionally interrupted her performance as Vera and Bob’s teenage daughter Mary. Completing the family circle was JoAnne Brody, mother of ailing pintsized charmer Caitlin Brody. Mrs. Brody, despite being the largest member of the cast, still managed to convince audiences that she was indeed the Burling’s pint-sized six-year-old.


No, this is not an actual news clipping, but for anyone wondering what the disaster-filled performance described above might have looked like, wonder no more.  Instead, head on over to the Meta Theatre for Suffer The Long Night, the latest laugh-fest by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke, creators of Meet The Parents and Meet The Fockers.

“Suffer The Long Night,” the “play” being performed by the Merry Art Players, would seem to be a rip-off of Joseph Hayes’ 1955 thriller The Desperate Hours, in which a typical suburban American family is terrorized by a trio of escaped convicts, though here there are just two (perhaps to avoid charges of plagiarism).

Here are just a handful of examples of the hilarity on stage and “behind the scenes”:

•Phones repeatedly ring when there is no phone to be seen, causing the harried “stage manager” to go in search of the production’s one and only phone.  Meanwhile, cast members “improvise dialog” to explain the phenomenon:  “The phone must be in the kitchen…” “Due to tax cuts, there aren’t enough phones in the police station.”

•Doorbells ring after visitors have entered, “snow” gets tossed in clumps by a not-so-invisible hand whenever the front door is opened, and when an actress is handed a makeshift cell phone to make a call (the authentic 1950s phone not being anywhere in sight), she decides to “dial” it 1950s style.

•An entire scene gets repeated over and over when one of the “understudies” keeps looping back to the start of the scene again and again.

•One of the “convicts” continually forgets his lines while the other is such a nervous wreck that his whole body shakes and his voice never veers from a monotone.

•A real bottle of booze gets substituted for a fake one and guess which recovering alcoholic is playing a character who has to drink from it.

•Lights go on at the wrong time, scenes begin in darkness, and at one point, the cell phone of one of the “actors” goes off mid-scene and … he answers it!  “I’m in a play. I said … I’m in a play.  Call me back. I said … Call me back.”

For a comedy like Suffer The Long Night (the real play, not the one being “performed” by the Merry Art Players), cast members must be at the top of their game, and luckily for the audience, these thespians most certainly are.

Pam Levin is absolutely marvelous as Meredith/Vera, perfectly capturing the heightened delivery of 1950s-style ACTING. As Mary’s husband Bob, Jon VanMiddlesworth is equally good, plus he gets to (hilariously) step into another actor’s role, script in hand, when “injury” sidelines his costar.  Red-nosed Stephanie Manglaras does sensational work as “I cod a cohd” Mary, milking every laugh from her poor character’s “real life” illness. Kipleigh Brown gets laugh after laugh as “little” Rosie, who was “a mere toddler six years ago” and now towers over her father.

The cops are R.S. Bailey (as “Jack Buckley” as Detective Carson) and Eric Porzadek (as “Glen DeRozier” as Detective Beck) and both are excellent.  (“Buckley” is apparently one of the Merry Art Players not felled by the flu, and one of the more experienced ones, an actor who never misses a beat, even when “DeRozier” is injured and “Thom Elam” (Bob) has to step in as Beck, and even more so later when the poor “stage manager” is forced to tackle the role.)

As “Chops,” Jeffrey Markle makes for a great classic 1950s tough guy villain, and writer/producer/director Glienna strikes just the right note (singular used deliberately) as the jittery understudy portraying Chop’s sidekick “Louie.”

Completing the cast are a hilariously frazzled Mandi Smith as the Merry Art “stage manager” and Brandon Alexander, getting laughs as the understudy playing football hero boyfriend Dirk.

Glienna’s direction is spot-on, as he keeps the action swift, the accidents frequent, and all of his actors on the same page.

In a show like Suffer The Long Night, sound and lighting cues must be letter perfect to recreate the chaos of the play within the play, and that they are.  Kudos to sound designer VanMiddlesworth and lighting designer Dan Steward for their crackerjack work here. Stephen Allison has designed the appropriately cheesy living room set (which takes quite a licking by play’s end) and Paula Vincent’s costumes are precisely what the Merry Art Players’ would have worn.

Suffer The Long Night provokes the kind of laughs that hurt—it’s that funny—and proves that “bad” can be very good indeed.

Note: Even the program is funny, the back half being that of the “Merry Art Players production of Suffer The Long Night” with must-read cast bios, and a list of “Tonight the role of _____ will be played by _____”s as long as your arm.

Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
August 24, 2008

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