Murder and suspense inhabit a small stage this month as Off the Wall stages a production of the psychological thriller Stranger in the Attic. Directed by Dale Gutzman from a script by John Kaasik, Stranger in the Attic is a tight, little drama set in the home of a true crime writer. The script is an excellent, little dip into the thriller genre complete with numerous plot twists the rather pleasantly and playfully stretch the bounds of believability. The cast assembled under Gutzman keeps the characters interesting enough to overcome any silliness in the script.
Robert Zimmerman plays an author named Brian. As the play opens, he’s seated there at his ever-present computer working away on something. His wife Dana (Amber Regan) is reading his latest work. He wants to know what she thinks. She’s reluctant to tell him. There’s some concern about his past--his first wife who went missing some time ago. Concerns of the past mix with mysteries of the present as a mysterious stranger named Kendrick (Coltyn Vondeylen) pops by to request that Brian write about a murder that has yet to happen. Kendrick intends to kill Brian’s neighbor.
Not everything in Kaasik's script works perfectly. Some of the dialogue sounds awkward. Structurally, though, it’s quite sound. The plot twists feel quite natural. Anyone familiar with the genre can anticipate what’s going to happen. There aren’t many stray details in the script that don’t feed right back into the plot. It’s a fun night at the theatre the breezes by pretty quickly on a cold autumn night.
Zimmerman and Regan provide suitable emotional depth. Husband and wife seems vulnerable enough to care about. Vondeylen’s approach to the role of the killer is interesting. He’s written to be a cold, calculating sociopath. Vondeylen goes against the grain a bit on this by allowing anger and passion to surface even when it’s not entirely necessary. An emotionally affectless manipulator might have been more chilling as a villain and a bit more on-brand with lead villains in these sorts of suspense thrillers. Vondeylen’s passion in the role allows even the villain to come across with great vulnerability. This compromises the moody integrity of a the genre a bit, but Zimmerman, Regan and Vondeylen have a compelling dynamic that keeps the plot moving along.
The central trio are supported by some interesting figures in the periphery. James Feeley has a brash confidence about him as Brian and Dana’s new neighbor. He’s a cordial man who has seems to have a very disturbing relationship with his wife. (A very compellingly troubled Caitlin Kujawski Compton.) Teddi Gardenerrounds out the cast as a steely, precise man who is quickly drawn-into the convoluted revelations of Brian’s life.