Arts & Culture

Tacoma Little Theatre to put on ‘Laura,’ a classic mystery but with much, much more

From left, Robin McGee, Rodman Bolek, Joel Thomas, Randon Welch, Ben Stahl rehearse a scene from “Laura,” which begins later this month at Tacoma Little Theatre.
From left, Robin McGee, Rodman Bolek, Joel Thomas, Randon Welch, Ben Stahl rehearse a scene from “Laura,” which begins later this month at Tacoma Little Theatre. Courtesy

The 1940s noir mystery “Laura” is coming to Tacoma Little Theatre.

Written by Vera Caspary, it was first a book, then a film by Otto Preminger with Jean Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb, and then finally a play. The book was not well-received, but the film was one of the most celebrated of the era.

Laura (played by Victoria Ashely, who is listed as simply “a girl” – you’ll see why) has been murdered. Her face was shot away by a shotgun blast. Mark McPherson (Rodman Bolek), is the detective on the case. He finds her more and more beguiling the more he learns about her. He listens to her music, stares at her portrait and interrogates the men who loved her. All he finds are contradictions. Who murdered her, and why?

At TLT, “Laura” is directed by Randy Clark, co-founder and artistic director of Dukesbay Theatre. Clark can boast of 35 years acting and directing and has been seen on local stages in such plays as “Our Town” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

“Yes, this is a mystery, but like all good plays, it also has terrific characters, and we have a cast that makes them fun to watch,” Clark says. “I can’t say enough about this cast. I’m so lucky to have these actors. I can’t stress that enough.”

In addition to Bolek and Ashley, the cast is comprised of Robin McGee as Mrs. Dorgan, Valeria Sanchez-Jimenez as Bessie Clary, Ben Stahl as Waldo Lydecker, Joel Thomas as Danny Dorgan and Randon Welch as Shelby Carpenter.

Speaking of the detective, Bolek says, “The case is a demotion for Mark, and he resents it until he falls in love with the image he builds of the woman whose murder he is investigating. It’s a provocative example of something we all do to varying degrees —build the image of someone or something that then competes with reality. Exploring the dynamic between his role as detective on the murder case and his romantic feelings for the victim has been a delightful challenge.

“It’s easy to categorize the play as just another murder mystery, but, in addition to other distinctive twists, Vera Caspary gives us an ambitious, intelligent, independent woman where there is more commonly a damsel in distress. In a genre that is male-centric in a world that, unfortunately, seems bent on remaining male-dominated, it is crucial that strong female writers and strong female characters take the stage. With ‘Laura,’ Vera Caspary took a leap in the right direction in the 1940s, and I hope the play inspires others to do so in the 21st century.”

Tarry, whom Tacoma theatergoers will remember from his riveting role as Richard Nixon in TLT’s “Frost/Nixon,” says “Laura” is “a classic noir mystery with lots of suspects, a couple subplots, attractive but flawed leads and more than a little dangerous romantic attraction.

“I play Olsen, a cop who does legwork for the lead investigator. I’m also the assistant stage manager, which tells you how small Olsen’s role is. After doing some of those huge line roles a few years ago, though, this feels nice and comfortable,” Tarry said. “It feels good to be on stage again, no matter how briefly.”

A relative newcomer to the South Sound, Ashley is a Mississippi native with a B.F.A. in theater. This is her second show with TLT. Her first was as Gillian Holroyd in “Bell, Book and Candle.” She also was seen in New Muses Theatre’s recent production of “Hamlet.”

“Laura is the most intriguing and complex character I’ve worked on so far,” Ashley says. “She’s not your typical chaste, damsel in distress. Through the subjectivity of those she knew, a portrait is painted of a successful, worldly woman in a male-dominated business world.

“Yet, there was so much more to her. At the heart of this character was a confident woman who expressed warmth, generosity and vulnerability; which is what invites Mark, and of course the audience, to want to know more about her.”

“Laura”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 26 to May 12

Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma

Tickets: $25.00 adult, $23 seniors, students, military, $20 children 12 and younger

Information: 253-272-2281, www.tacomalittletheatre.com.

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