“Stranger in the Attic” Compels Attention

Treasure can be found throughout the Capital Region Theater scene and on a beautiful night’s drive from Albany to the Claverack Free Library to see The Two of Us Productions’ opening night performance of John Kaasik’s “Stranger in the Attic,” my attention was held completely, sometimes raptly, by this twisting, dark-hearted thriller.

The play opens with a “Deathtrap” like reading of a finished work by the lead character which cleverly sets up the world, stakes, and attitudes of those involved. In this case, the journalist Brian Hollander (an energetic and engaged Mark Leinung) has finished a book, and it has just been read and summarily dismissed as crowd-pleasing by his second wife, Dana Hollander (smart and sharp Karissa Payson). He needs new material for a story that will excite him, and so do we.

The evening quickly ramps up with the arrival of Kendrick (an understated Eamon Martin who carries many of the evening’s chilliest, thrilling moments as the spooky sociopath), who tells a story of the Hollander’s next-door-neighbor who is a lawyer who got a criminal off on a technicality and when the prisoner was released he murdered Kendrick’s wife. Kendrick plans to murder the lawyer and use Hollander as an accomplice with the promise of an exclusive view of a murder being planned and executed. “If you go to the zoo and open the lion’s cage and the lion kills someone, who’s responsible?”

The next-door neighbors show up, Margaret & Douglas Brendan (Cyndi Miller & Matt Leinung), she is a rather scattered woman, and he is boorish to the extreme. His order that she return home and get in the kitchen for his dinner drew a gasp from me. She has a quite funny speech about how she is instructed by her husband to leave clues about her murderer with fingers pointing to specific parts of the body in some elaborate code, it gets funnier as it goes on with the idea that someone in the throes of death would play this game of charades. He seems to be enjoying playing this dismissive bastard of a character.

The final character to show up in the rather swift thriller is Detective Hailey Nelson played by Linda Storms in a bracing, no-nonsense manner. She comes off as the strongest woman in the play with her brief “cut the shit” scene late in the play.

It’s a rather flat production directed by Stephen Sanborn with no music, limited physical life by the cast, and few big laughs but there is much to keep your attention with the playwright’s dark turns of phrase. “A man’s got the right to know if his wife is compromising her virtue with the local tradespeople.”

I enjoyed my trip into the dark woods of Claverack for this knowing look into the murderous, avaricious, lecherous mind of the criminals all around us.

“Stranger in the Attic,” 5/12-5/21 at Claverack Free Library. Tickets: www.TheTwoOfUsProductions.org 518-758-1648

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