Thoughts & Musings

BWW Review: Be On the Lookout for NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH

NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH is a light-hearted romp through the dark recesses of middle-class paranoia....This may not sound funny, but it is.

by Larry O'Brien,
  • 24th November 201524/11/15
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Your intrepid correspondent saw two plays this weekend, Andrew Case’s THE RANT at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket and NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH by Alan Ayckbourn Upstage at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren. Each of these plays dealt a violent death at the hands of the police. THE RANT is a powerful, drama about the dark recesses of murder and unknowability, while NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH is a light-hearted romp through the dark recesses of middle-class paranoia. I enjoyed them both very much, but then I’m middle-class with dark recesses of my own.

NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH is centered around a brother and sister, Martin (Joe Henderson) and Hilda (Becky Minard), who move in to a new home in the Bluebird Hill development and seem to be in full-blown pax domestica until Martin sees a teenager cutting through their back yard, assaults him and takes his flute. He mistakenly thought the kid was a thief and thus became a thief himself. The same afternoon, Martin and Hilda throw an open house to meet their new neighbors. Neither Martin nor Hilda, nor the neighborhood, nor the neighbors are what they appear to be, and the vigilante group that grows out of the day’s events brings out the worst in everyone. The group manages to turn Bluebird Hill into a quasi-fascist state in their attempts to achieve security. In the end, Martin is gunned down when the police mistake a statue of Jesus he is holding for a weapon. Really. Somehow, Ayckbourn manages to mine this situation for laughs. At scenes change, the theme from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood wafts over the audience, and whenever Martin enters, he is wearing a different cardigan, a la Fred Rogers. The neighbors, who all seemed so nice at the outset, reveal darker and darker aspects of themselves as the play evolves and everything slides towards dystopia. This may not sound funny, but it is.

The cast is equal to the task. Over the course of play, Martin and Hilda leave the straight and narrow I favor of the road to perdition, and Henderson and Minard are appropriately shocked at each other as they do so. Jim Sullivan is rat-a-tat-tat as the tightly wound former military man Rod, for whom an eye for an eye is the only answer. F. William Oakes and Pamela Morgan are very funny, each in their own way, as the badly mismatched, unhappily married couple, Gareth and Amy. Lynne Collinson has some very funny moments as Dorothy, the busybody who fancies herself an investigative journalist. Laura Sorenson and Wayne Kneeland play another married couple whose marriage is not what it appears to be and unravels before our eyes. Did Ayckbourn ever see a relationship he couldn’t dislike?

Trevor Elliot’s set is a barebones living room, but the playing are is surrounded by chalk drawings of an aerial view I of the development, which suggest at once a classroom and a police drawing-at least it did to me. The costumes are fine-The Mr. Rogers sweaters a very nice touch.

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