Review by Samela Harris
Director Erik Strauts has taken a gamble in mounting an unknown new American play as part of The Rep’s 2017 season. The Psychic is written by long-time TV comedy writer Sam Bobrick and in 2011 it won the prestigious Edgar award for the Mystery Writers of America Best Play. The hook that lured Strauts to direct it was the sense that he could not, on first read, see where the play was taking him.
That is why the play is fun and it is why no self-respecting critic ever would give away a plot spoiler.
The play is set in present-day New York wherein outrageous gangsters and molls still roam the back streets where struggling playwright Adam Webster lives. He has a sprawling basement apartment with high arched windows which show the lower parts of people passing in the street outside. This set, designed by Patrick Beagan and superbly lit by Richard Parkhill and Jason Groves, is simply star of the show. Complete with electricity switch box, pipes and metal beams it sings with a sense of authenticity.
On hard times, the playwright not only hands out business cards handwritten in pencil but has popped a crude home-made sign in the window advertising himself as a $25 psychic. And thus does the passing parade come to his door.
Adam is played in an exaggerated vocabulary of shoulder shrugs, wide eyes and raised eyebrows by Josh van’t Padje. He’s a phoney psychic and quickly caught out. But then again, does he have a streak of the old prescience after all?
He meets gorgeous Laura Benson, the surprisingly elegant wife of nasty underworld figure, Roy Benson. He meets the ravishingly brassy moll, Rita Malone, and the crafty crook Johnny Bubbles, who wears an ostentatious diamond tie pin. And finally, as news of murdered characters gets around, he meets Detective Norris Coslow, a stereotypical whodunnit dick, absurdly clad in a bright yellow hat and coat. They are all players linked in a convoluted tale.
As the characters reveal themselves and the plot weaves its way forth, it is clear that all is unclear and nothing may be what it could or should be. Herein, it all becomes pleasantly funny.
Strauts brings out the best in his classy cast: Anita Pipprell, James Whitrow, Jessica McGaffin, James Black, and Malcolm Walton. They look classically cornball in their Beverly George costumes and they all work with ease in strong ‘Noo Yawker’ accents.
It’s a beaut production and a welcome source of laughs on a winter’s night.