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Suspenseful ‘Night Watch’ Returns to MLT Stage

Play returns after being interrupted during 2020 COVID lockdown

By Bonnijean Cooney Adams
The Tube City Almanac
May 10, 2024
Posted in: Entertainment

Chelsea Conway as Blanche Cooke, close friend of Elaine Wheeler, interacts with Steven Gallagher as Elaine's husband John Wheeler in McKeesport Little Theater’s “Night Watch.” (Submitted photo by Jennifer Vertullo/McKeesport Little Theater)

If you go...


“Night Watch”

Where: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., (412) 673-1100, www.mckeesportlittletheater.com

When: Friday, May 10, Saturday, May 11, Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays May 11 and May 19 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for students, available through the MLT website or by calling the theater. 

It’s taken more than four years, but the mystery thriller “Night Watch” returns to the McKeesport Little Theater stage, with most of the original cast and director back together again.

As part of the 2020 season, the production was shut down that March, along with public gatherings of all kinds, because of restrictions to try to stem the spread of Covid.

“Night Watch” opens today (May 10) and continues this weekend and May 17-19.

Returning director Sean Butler said while he was eager to do the show again, there were some challenges in making that happen.

“The first time MLT produced the show, it was to run in March of 2020. That was also when the board of directors for the theater wanted to run it this year,” Butler said.

“However, many of my performers were not available during that month for one reason or another,” he continued. “When I informed the board of this, they were generously willing to move the production to May so that I could get the original cast back.  Once the schedule changed, everything fell into place with casting.  I/we were very lucky.”

Butler, also a veteran MLT performer, said he formerly was on the committee that selects the shows for each season, and “Night Watch” appealed to him.

“I was very lucky to get the majority of the original cast back, save for two individuals and the stage manager,” Butler said.

“The theater community in this part of Pennsylvania is relatively small, so I’ve worked with or have known many of these actors for years now,” Butler said. “Getting in touch with them was easy, but making sure everyone would be available and willing to return was a little harder.”

 “Some aspects of re-working the show were easier, while others were not,” the director  explained. “The actors were able to tap into their character work from the previous production, but it wasn’t exactly like riding a bike.”

Written by Louise Fletcher, “Night Watch” was made into a movie in 1973 starring Elizabeth Taylor.

Cindy Swanson reprises her 2020 role as Elaine Wheeler in “Night Watch.” (Submitted photo by Jennifer Vertullo/McKeesport Little Theater)

Cindy Swanson returns as Elaine Wheeler, a wealthy woman still trying to deal with some shocking events from her past. She had the unenviable task of identifying the bodies when her first husband – and his mistress – were killed in an accident.

When the audience meets Elaine, she has found love again with her second husband John Wheeler (played again by Steven Gallagher), but all is not what it seems on the surface.

Butler said Fletcher really helped build the question of sanity when insomniac Elaine claims to have seen a dead body in a nearby rundown house.

But when police come to investigate, no such body is found. That’s just the beginning of strange, unexplained occurrences as the story unfolds, with plenty of twists and turns throughout.

 “There were many features of the characters that needed to be found again through table work and blocking,” Butler said. “In the end, though, it was like we continued without ever leaving the stage four years ago.”

Gallagher, without divulging too much of the plot and ending, shared his viewpoint on his character.

He said although he believes there was some genuine passion and affection between himself and Elaine at first, that has faded by the time the play takes place and he is having an affair.

That affair is with Elaine’s good friend Blanche Cooke (Chelsea Conway), who happens to be a nurse and has come to watch over Elaine amid fears she might have a breakdown.
Other characters include Ellen Kalik as Dr. Tracey Lake, who is called for a consult to evaluate Elaine, and Renata Bushik as Helga, the housekeeper with real affection for Elaine, but who is not a favorite fan of John.

Ron Clawson is back as Curtis Appleby, the outspoken, nosey, and sometimes flamboyant neighbor, with Dellen Morton as Vanelli, David Hurlbert as Sam Hoke, and Shawn Conway as Lieutenant Walker.

Katelyn Butler returns as “Night Watch” producer.

 Back in 2020, Butler said he decided to maintain the play’s setting in the 1970s, which he kept for the 2024 production.
“While there is no direct reference to a date or year in the script, there are several references to a six-year time span from the events of the show and a tragic event that is talked about in the second act,” Butler said. “I wanted to make sure we held true to the text and the timing it mentioned.”
He described his biggest challenges in directing “Night Watch” again after the four-year show hiatus.

“Honestly, it was remembering what we did before and deciding if anything needed to be reworked or updated,” Butler said.

 “Talents become more polished over four years, both from a directing standpoint and an acting one.  My abilities as a director, I’d like to think, have become more polished and refined as far as how to shell out characters and setting the scene,” he continued.

“The talents of the performers have also changed, becoming more finessed having worked numerous other shows between productions,” the director said. “These updates in ourselves made the rehearsal process a little more streamlined with how the actors would process my notes, as well as how I envisioned a given scene and character choice.”
Butler said “Night Watch” is not a traditional whodunit, and has some suggestions for those attending.
“If they’re someone who wants to be blown away by the climatic twist, I would suggest to simply listen to the story as it’s being told,” he said. “You don’t want to get ahead of yourself by trying to interpret different information that’s talked about in a given scene. Understand who each character is and how they interact with each other.”

“On the other hand, if they’re someone who wants to figure things out themselves and deduce the ending ahead of time,” Butler said, “then I would suggest you take note of every piece of information that is given.  There are lots of little details in the text and on the stage that shed some light about what has happened before and what is happening during the events of the show.”

Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a freelance contributor. She can be reached at adamsclick@aol.com.

MLT “Night Watch” 2024 Cast

Cindy Swanson as Elaine Wheeler
Steven Gallagher as John Wheeler
Chelsea Conway as Blanche Cooke
Shawn Conway as Lieutenant Walker
Renata Bushik as Helga
Ron Clawson as Curtis Appleby
Ellen Kalik as Dr. Tracey Lake
Dellen Morton as Vanelli
David Hurlbert as Sam Hoke

Directed by Sean Butler
Produced by Katelyn Butler

Originally published May 10, 2024.

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