Ghosts, Mayhem and Murder At WCP’s Season Opener

For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD — The 1972 play Night Watch by Lucille Fletcher is the perfect production for a Halloween season. The Westfield Community Players’ 89th season’s presentation that runs three-weekends is filled with suspense, intrigue, and plenty of maze-like twists and turns.

When the lights come up on the stunning set of a lush living room in New York City circa 1972, millionairess Elaine Wheeler (Robyn Mandalakis), dressed handsomely in a blue peignoir nightgown set, is chain smoking and pacing the floor at 5 a.m. This long-time insomniac has plenty to ruminate about since her first husband, Carl, was killed in a car accident almost a decade ago. Elaine had a breakdown at that time, got therapy, and supposedly moved on with her life but still has flashbacks. She married John Wheeler (Thom Campbell), a loving and supportive man, seven years ago. He’s solicitous of her insomnia and suggests she take an extended vacation at a clinic in Switzerland – the best in the world – that deals specifically with her disorder.

Before this day really begins, however, Elaine sees the murder of a man in the abandoned tenement building across from their house. Was it a daydream? A hallucination? (Strains of the movies “Gaslight” and Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” should be playing in the background.) Members in the household aren’t quite sure what she’s seen but call the police to have them check on it. Blanche Cooke (Kathy Gordon), Elaine’s attractive best friend who has been living with them for months and is a registered nurse who dispenses her medication, serves as a soothing voice of reason. A nosy housekeeper, Helga, (Ruth Rocky) lurks, keeping track of everything she sees and hears.

To add to the calamity, within hours of the first murder, Elaine swears she sees a woman murdered in that same building. She beleaguers the police, a Lieutenant Walker (Jose Rivera), specifically, who becomes exasperated with her constant calls. Because of the police sirens, and flashing lights, the Wheelers’ neighbor, the flamboyant, quirky Curtis Appleby (Edward Bontempo), the publisher of the “Kips Bay Tattler” invites himself into their living room and wants to know exactly what she saw. He provides ominous background on the tenement building: he claims it’s filled with “sordidness and evil” stemming from a suicide back in 1852. Tension builds.

During the three days over which this whole saga takes place, there is blackmail, infidelity, secrecy, a visit by a chief of psychiatry Dr. Tracey Lake (Sandra Lilly), and an irate delicatessen owner Sam Hoke (Rupert Ravens). Is Elaine having another breakdown? Is someone (s) gaslighting her? It’s a great little mystery that reveals itself in the last surprising minutes.

Director Bill Seeselberg has done a fine job in assembling talented actors with a wide range of experience. He cast a high school junior, Anthony Giangrante, as Patrolman Vanelli, and paired him with a host of veteran actors who bring suspense and, at times, laughs. A special tip of the hat to lighting/sound designer Don Schlachter, costumer Ed Bontempo, and set designer Linda Correll for helping producers Linda Viel and Lois Stevens bring this dramatically rich production to our doorstep. For tickets, check their website at or call (908) 232-1221. The show runs October 22, 23 and 28, 29.

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