Theatre Suburbia's The Psychic: Best Enjoyed by Mystery-Genre Lovers

The set-up:

The ever-popular genre of humorous murder mysteries takes some strange twists and turns in The Psychic, from prolific playwright Sam Bobrick, as an impoverished writer seeks to finish a novel.

The execution:

Theatre Suburbia often provides a set detailed with wit, and the New York basement apartment of writer Adam Webster is no exception. The paint is peeling, exposing the brick underneath, and I believe I saw a lava lamp in the corner. And what basement would be complete without a beanbag chair and a Howdy Doody puppet? Yet there must be a gremlin at work, for the fuschia-colored outside door lacks the expected grime, and (gasp) there is not even one deadbolt lock on the front door opening to an alley! In New York?!

I wish those were the only flaws, but sometimes the world can be cruel. The main characters are the writer, portrayed by Ryan Rasmussen, and the wealthy Laura Benson, played by Vicky McCormick, and both say their lines flatly, so that the narrative is conveyed but not the flavor. Rasmussen was excellent in the recent Play On at this same theater, so director Lee Raymond must share some of the responsibility, as the too-rapid speech of Rasmussen must have caught her attention, as well as the largely emotionless line readings of McCormick. Raymond and assistant director Judith Mallernee do keep the actors moving on stage, so there is activity, but it is often aimless, to no point.

The news is better for the other actors: Bob Galley plays Laura's husband, Roy Benson, and he mugs and widens his eyes to ensure that we see that chicanery is afoot - this might be over-acting in a different production; here it is a breath of fresh air. Natasha Sebeyran plays Rita Malone, mistress of Roy, and, intended to be a bit of a strumpet, she is dressed accordingly. Sebeyran does what she can with a role not made very interesting by the playwright. Dean R. Dicks plays another lover of Rita, a gangster, and he is excellent, both credible and interesting. And Gene Griesbach plays detective Norris Coslow, and brings an urbane charm and quiet confidence that is disarming, and unusual; finally, we have a character from the playwright who is not a stereotype.

The Psychic won the Edgar Award as the Best Mystery Play of 2010, a mystery in itself. My interest was quickened early on as writer Adam was seized unwittingly by outbursts of truth, in which he foresaw events or saw through pretense to the reality within. It raised the possibility that the writer, posing as a psychic to raise rent money, actually did have second sight. Playwright Bobrick, however, soon dropped this promising theme, and, no, I don't forgive him, for the alternative theme (not to be revealed here), while inventive, led to strange twists at the end, and even one twist too far, as the playwright tacked on a final ending less satisfying than the prior one. Since the characters, except for detective Coslow, are one-dimensional, the play might work better with powerhouse actors whose personal charisma blows us past the weaknesses - but then, what play doesn't wish for a cast like that?

The verdict:

Some strong acting by secondary characters helps overcome weak leads, and some occasional humor and an inventive finale end the performance on a strong note. Best enjoyed by lovers of the mystery genre.

The Psychic continues through June 30 at Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive. For ticketing or information, call 713-682-3525 or contact [email protected]

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Jim Tommaney