Guilty Conscience Is Guilty of Lame Writing

The Setup: Longtime collaborators Richard Levinson and William Link created some marvelous television, including the excellent Murder, She Wrote, a delightful soufflé of plot and acting.

The Execution: Unfortunately, Levinson & Link's stage creation, Guilty Conscience, falls flat as a pancake. Originally a successful television movie, that Guilty Conscience featured Anthony Hopkins, Blythe Danner and Swoosie Kurtz (and I doubt if even they could bring the stage version to life).

There's little suspense - we learn early that crooked attorney Arthur Jamison wishes to murder his wife Louise, and he's searching for a foolproof method. But his strategies are boring - and so implausible that a rookie on-the-beat would see through them. David Barron plays Arthur with lip-smacking relish, working hard to let us see what's going on as he smirks, frowns and buries his face in his hands. As Louise, Jennifer Wood is pretty enough to be a "trophy" wife, but she has a small voice that she fails to project, and she gives a monotonous performance. Anne Sanford as Jackie, Arthur's mistress, enters late in the first act, bringing with her some much-needed high-voltage energy, while Glenn Dodson gives a curiously subdued performance as the alter-ego of Arthur, who fact-checks his murderous scenarios. Anita Samson, assisted by David Samson, directed the work, but failed to create an effective acting ensemble. The set by Tom Eschbacher is handsome, a minor set change is handled with skill.

The Verdict: The real mystery is what entertainment value was perceived in this poorly written drama, especially since the next production is the taut The Cocktail Hour by A. R. Gurney, confirming good judgment. I look forward to seeing it.

(Through February 19. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219)

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Jim Tommaney