Beth Hughes-Brown likes a challenge. The 14-year veteran of Providence Players of Fairfax, discussing the many productions she has directed for the local community theater group, delighted in recalling her production of “Witness for the Prosecution” in 2005, and how on one memorable night that popular theater credo “the show must go on” was tested. During the run of the Agatha Christie mystery, a truck hit a light pole a few blocks away, knocking out power to the James Lee Community Center Theater in the midst of a show. The Providence Players extended the invitation to usher play-goers out of the now darkened theater but, wrapped up in a gripping courtroom scene, the audience stayed, and so the actors sat cross-legged before the stage, using flashlights to cast enough light to finish the show. It’s no wonder, then, that Hughes-Brown would choose to direct the Providence Players production of “Sleuth,” which opens this Friday, taking on the challenge of a mystery with layers of trickery and dangerous deception that come from a love triangle formed among a married woman, her lover, and the husband who plots the lover’s downfall.
It’s not the type of production Hughes-Brown generally picks, she admitted, as she usually directs comedies and shows with many female roles – “because there just aren’t enough of them,” she says. But still she chose the play, a thriller focused on the “gentlemanly banter” of two lead male actors.
“This particular show was so juicy, I just went with it,” Hughes-Brown said.
She describes it as a play with inherent difficulties for both actors and the technical crew, difficulties that can be overcome thanks to the talents of current Providence Players members.
“We just happen to have a confluence of people who could actually handle those challenges,” Hughes-Brown said, praising the set design and build by Patrick David and the set painting by David Husick, who created a realistic two-story Tudor for the stage; costumes by Beth Whitehead; and the lighting design and special effects of Chip Gertzog.
Their craft is made all the more important in this particular production.
“The audience has to be very drawn in and very much believing that this is extremely realistic from the very get-go.” Hughes-Brown said. “They have to believe in it, they have to be immersed in it, because everything they think they believe, and believe very strongly, is going to be challenged.”
Hughes-Brown had high praise, too, for the lead actors of the play who take on “huge roles,” their dialogue making up much of the play’s content. Mike Donahue played the cuckolded Andrew Wyke, and Derek Bradley as Milo Tindle plays the lover who Wyke’s wife hopes to marry.
As director, Hughes-Brown has the task – and great fun, she said – of putting herself in the audience’s place to watch it all come together, following each twist and turn they will take and making sure each point is well made to take the audience on that journey.
“I just don’t think audience will see coming what happens,” Hughes-Brown said. “It’s just a masterful mystery.”
“Sleuth” runs May 18 through June 2, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. The play will be performed at The James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church. To order tickets, visit providenceplayers.org, email [email protected], or call 703-425-6782.