By Keith Huff
Directed by Gary Griffin
At Writers’ Theatre, Books on Vernon
Tour de force performance by Barbara Robertson launches police procedural mystery
Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain featured two Chicago cops and became a mega-hit here, on Broadway, and soon to be a major film is followed by Huff’s second ‘cop thriller’ – The Detective’s Wife – now in a world premiere at Writers’ Theatre. Barbara Roberston using her immense talent to land Huff’s 100 minute one person mystery into a thrilling evening of mystery theatre.
Robertson presents the persona of a cop’s wife who raised two children and loyally waited for her man to come home to the safety of their Edgebrook house. Alice Conroy tells us of the time when her husband is fatally shot on duty while investigating an old 1988 “who-done-it” that has taken the lives of several investigators through the years. Alice tells that she simply “knew” the moment when John was gunned down.
We learn that Alice voraciously read detective novels all during her 30 years of marriage completing over 10, 000 such volumes. We experience (with the help of terrific video projections by Mike Tutaj) Alice’s stages of grieving and her loss of her voice as the trauma of losing one’s life partner changed her. Eventually, her curiosity and her investigative instincts honed sharp by countless police procedurals commanded her to try to solve her husband’s murder.
Roberston deftly guides us (with injections of dark humor spiced with self-deprecating elements) through a macabre journey as she moves closer to solving John’s murder. We see a woman struggling with her sanity that leads to her doctors and her children questioning her mental state.
Playwright Keith Huff, ever the skilled wordsmith, has given Alice both a quirky and spirited personality and a vulnerability that exudes empathy. We care and quietly cheer for Alice to find peace. A one-person play is difficult enough to mount and a police procedural mystery is even harder to get right. But Barbara Roberston’s winning performance captures the essence of mystery as she weaves Huff’s smartly crafted suspense thriller to its daunting conclusion. The work has strong references to the ghosts of Hamlet, is partly a code of blue conspiracy tale, and partly a work of psychological unraveling. I’ll not say more so as not to spoil the plot that Roberston so deftly delivers in one of the finest performances seen on a Chicago stage in years.
My former Chicago cop background did get me to question a photo of John Conroy in a Commander’s uniform complete with a gold oak leaf when he clearly was a homicide detective not a district commander. Also Huff plants a seed of unspoken corruption depicting John as a possible “dirty” cop since he paid off his house, sent two children to college debt free and he paid cash for Alice’s photo framing franchise -all without Alice working and without John working a second job. This was never developed and that bothered me since it is possible to do all the above on a detective’s salary but highly unlikely.
With those two small quibbles aside, let me state that The Detective’s Wife is a marvelously engrossing theatrical event featuring a strong performance of a finely crafted suspense mystery. Roberston, Huff and director GaryGriffin present a completely provoking theatrical experience. Don’t miss this amazing show. With Roberston directly addressing the audience, I thought she was talking directly to me. That was rivetingly eerie.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: June 1, 2011
At Writers’ Theatre, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe (at the Books on Vernon Bookstore0, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $5- – $60, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm on June 29 & July 27, running time is 100 minutes with intermission, through August 7, 2011