Curtain Call: Cliffhanger lives up to its title

Phoenix Stage Company, Oakville/Naugatuck: Mystery fans rejoice. The Phoenix Stage Company has a mystery thriller on the boards that will have you sitting at the edge of your seat but only when you’re not laughing out loud. Playwright James Yaff has managed to create an intelligent mystery spiked with plenty of humor. It’s like the best of both worlds.

The plot focuses on Henry Lowenthal, a philosophy professor who loves teaching ethics and wants to continue to do so. He doesn’t want to retire even though he is of the age to do so. The problem is his archrival, the chair of the department, is determined to let him go. When rivalry gets way out of hand, even an idealistic professor’s ethics can become compromised too easily. After all, “the lesser good gives way to the greater good” or does it?

Protagonist Henry has a lot on his plate. Not only does he have to deal with a vengeful chairperson, but a rich student failing the course demands a passing grade. Henry is not about to give in. Henry’s wife Polly supports her husband every step of the way. Her ethics, however, are not in line with her hubbies’.

Ed Bassett, the executive director of the Phoenix Stage Company, directs this production and ever so skillfully unifies the action into a believable event. He designed the set with an eye for detail, and rendered a mountain retreat with multiple internal rooms visible to the audience. He also has the innate ability to dig deep for character, so his cast comes through with one great performance after another.

Tim Phillips plays the protagonist and is such a natural that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. He is the iconic philosophy professor. Kristin Moresi plays antagonist Edith Wilshire, the chair of the department and a witch of a witch if ever there was one. Moresi’s performance is riveting. Her character isn’t on stage for long, but Moresi’s performance is one that audiences will long remember. We want to see more of this fine actress. We also want to see more of Justin Torres who plays the college student. He is wicked! He is a cyclone of action rolled up in energy packed passion. Remember his name — this kid has a future in theater. Chris Evans plays Dave DeVito, a detective who knows more than he lets on. He delivers the real thing.

Audiences will think that they know who’s who and what’s what, but there are twists and turns in this play that will keep surprising audiences right up until the very end. The production plays through Feb. 24. Box office: 860-417-2505.

Addendum: Congratulations to Phoenix Stage Company for being selected as one of six theaters in the whole country to be a part of the American Association of Community Theater’s AACT NewPlayFest 2020. This is quite an honor. I’ll fill you in on all the glorious details next week. Stay tuned.

Joanne Greco Rochman was a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]

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Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]

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