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Theater review: 'The Bat' at Theatre 40

August 02, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • Amateur sleuth Cornelia (Veronica Cartwright) and her maid (Loraine Shields try to determine ouija one of the suspects is "The Bat"
Amateur sleuth Cornelia (Veronica Cartwright) and her maid (Loraine Shields… (Ed Krieger )

Thirty years before a certain caped crusader commenced his crime-fighting career, a cloaked criminal commandeered a comparable chiropteran cognomen for his crooked capers. We refer of course to “The Bat” — the masked mastermind whose identity is revealed only in the final moments of the 1920 hit stage play that bears his name.

In Theatre 40’s elaborately staged revival, this classically constructed mystery-comedy by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood features all the requisite whodunit tropes: a dark and stormy night, an isolated mansion filled with suspects and, naturally, a mounting body count.

Adapted from Rinehart’s novel, “The Circular Staircase,” the narrative focuses on amateur sleuth Cornelia Van Gorder (Veronica Cartwright) tackling a series of seemingly unrelated puzzles involving a massive bank embezzlement, a murder, incompetent cops and a secret room in the stately manor she’s rented for the summer — all amid news reports of the disguised desperado who flaunts his signature bat logo.

The Bat actually occupies little stage time in his masked persona, though suspicions mount that he’s one of the 10 shady characters who parade across Jeff G. Rack’s lavishly detailed drawing-room set.     

The spaghetti bowl of a plot cheerfully resists intellectual scrutiny — far better to surrender any longing for comprehensibility and enjoy Martin M. Speer’s atmospheric staging, with its admirable execution of a formidable number of technical cues (Ric Zimmerman’s lighting effects are a critical story element).

The dialogue sports a notable level of wit, sophistication and slyly subversive offhand quips, though the performances rarely do them justice; grappling with basic line delivery is still evident at this point in the run.

The script is tailor-made for classic character actors of yesteryear — where are the latter-day Eve Ardens, Dick Powells and Thelma Ritters when we need them?

– Philip Brandes

The Bat,” Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 26. $24-$26. (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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