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PRIVATE EYES

David found this Steven Dietz script, a very clever and sophisticated backstage comedy about love and deceit in the theatre world. (Dietz has also written a great DRACULA script.)

The Company approached Technisonic Studios, a St. Louis television production studio, about playing on their soundstage. They welcomed the idea, and PRIVATE EYES became the first of several productions mounted there. Along with great acoustics and plentiful technical tools, Technisonic’s spare, white soundstage was a perfect backdrop for this clean, elegant production. And, again, Midnight was blazing a trail of new spaces for theatre.

It was directed in high style by Dick Colloton, a tv/film director with St. Louis’ Arbor Group. He delivered a great show, and then went on to work the group filming the JESSE JAMES performance at the James Farm in Kearney, in May, 1999.

Tragically and unexpectedly, Dick passed away in July of that year. He was a great talent, and a great friend, and he is missed.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
Reviewed by Gerry Kowarsky

Like a number of local theater companies, Midnight Productions has no permanent home. The need to find places to perform is a regrettable burden, but for the group’s current production, the search for a space has turned up a uniquely suitable environment for an unusual script.

The play is “Private Eyes” by Steven Dietz. The place is Technisonic Studios. The result is Midnight Productions most impressive work to date. This delightful, fascinating production leaves no doubt that the group’s artistic vision and capability are worthy of serious attention.

At the start of “Private Eyes,” a nervous actress, Lisa, auditions for an aloof playwright, Matthew in a scene about a waitress serving a playwright. In the next scene, Lisa is at her day job as a waitress. He customer is Matthew, the playwright for whom she just auditioned.

Still later, Matthew and Lisa are married and appearing together in a play about a married couple in which the wife is having an affair. At the same time, Lisa is having an affair with Adrian, the play’s director.

The play continually blurs the line between life and aft. An angry outburst of Matthew’s for example, may be his own words, a speech written for his character or a story made up for his psychiatrist.

The shifts between levels of reality are effective in Technisonic Studios, where the two-story back an side walls are painted the same shade of white as the floor. The corners are rounded where floor and walls meet, creating the illusion of no horizon. Against this eerie background, the characters and props seem to float in Doug Hastings’ stark lighting. This disorienting environment is the perfect place for the equally disorienting action.

The principal actors are David Wassilak (Matthew), Stephanie Vogt (Lisa) and Joe Hanrahan (Adrian). Under Dick Colloton’s well-paced direction, they give quirky, stimulating performances that are admirably attuned to the need for quick changes between naturalistic and stylized acting. They are particularly responsive to the shifts of power in a relationship that accompany changes in knowledge or location.

Susan Fay turns in fine supporting performances as a waitress and a detective. Lynn Roseman maintains emotional distance as a psychiatrist who does the same.

The costumes (for which no designer is listed) have a consistent look – all black, except for shirts in several different solid colors.


Intermission Magazine review
Reviewed by Andy Magee

The tag-team duo, David Wassilak and Joe Hanrahan, also known as Midnight Productions, have teamed up to bring us another marvelous piece of theatre. “Private Eyes,” written by Steven Dietz, is a convoluted, circumstantial love triangle mystery. This off-beat dramatic comedy is about a group of actors rehearsing for a show that progressively mimics events happening off the stage. The plot is continuously folded over to keep the audience questioning the frame of reality they are in. This technique is effective in maintaining the audience’s attention as the tiny bits of plot supporting dialogue are offered up like treats for good behavior. Through the course of the play, it is assumed that Lisa, played by the beautiful and talented Stephanie Vogt, is having a problem with infidelity. Her husband and stage partner, Matthew (David Wassilak) begins to suspect an affair between Lisa and dtheir onstage director Adrian (Joe Hanrahan). From here, a tension building mind-game ensues. It swells when Adrian’s wife (Susan Fay) enters the plot, undercover. An additional perspective is added as Matthew purges his feelings in soliloquistic sessions with his shrink, played by Lynn Roseman. The fact that these are actors playing actors, playing characters, adds another transcendent plane to the work.

For this show, Midnight Productions utilized a sound stage at Technisonic Studios. The bright, bare white walls of the commercial studio and the minimal trappings of the set (a few chairs, two tables and a desk) helped maintain focus throughout the play. Unfortunately, the flat floor of the sound stage and the appropriated metal chairs did little for the audience’s vantage points, especially from the back row.

The primary trio of Wassilak, Vogt and Hanrahan wer outstanding in every regard. They were fluid in conveying their character-within-a-character roles as they jumped from scene to scene. They were also complimentary of each other despite the cold and sometimes vacant writing of Steven Dietz.

All in all, “Private Eyes” is another intelligent, well formed production from the team that brought us such recent hits as “The Ballad of Jesse James” and “Life After Death.” Creativity and resounding style are primary vocabulary for Midnight Productions


PLAYWRIGHT DIETZ REVELS IN DECEIVING A DECEITFUL AUDIENCE
Judith Newmark
Post-Dispatch Theater Critic
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In his intricate comedy "Private Eyes," playwright Steven Dietz starts with a theater convention, the backstage romantic triangle, then adds so many lies, secrets and surprises that the characters can barely keep their footing on reality's shifting sands. It's a tricky balancing act for the audience, too. Midnight Productions is presenting the play's St. Louis premiere tonight.

Widely produced, especially at regional theaters, Dietz is a prolific author whose other plays include "God's Country" and "More Fun Than Bowling." The 40-year-old playwright and his wife, playwright/actress Allison Gregory, live in Seattle. He's got an interesting take on life -- and on theater:

• On honesty, deception and theater: "Private Eyes" was a really lousy play for a long time. I spent seven years on it, and it was a breakthrough play for me. The 15 or so plays of mine that came before it are all an attempt to figure out how theater works.

"In 'Private Eyes,' I think I took a step in the right direction. As an audience, we are all so suggestible, and I think I use that to the play's advantage -- to look at how suggestible we are with each other and in love. I wanted to write a play that deceives its audience in the same way that we deceive each other.

"We have to write about deception as we grow into a world where we can make up who we are, instead of inherit who we are. Part of that is technology. Human contact is increasingly unnecessary. Also, life is easier. I don't have to struggle like my parents or grandparents did. So the things that do trouble us take the form of suspicion. Am I doing the right thing? Am I hearing the truth? A tiny slight takes on great significance.

"I think that's why audiences enjoy seeing deception. It's timely. But it has to be a comedy. That's always how we get seduced -- into an affair, or into a story. It seems like a really good time. It always starts out as a comedy, and it always starts out small - a remark, a cup of tea. And theater is a medium that can turn on a dime. On a word or two."

• On what's really happening in the new play: "I find that sometimes people working on 'Private Eyes' dig much deeper than I believe the bottom is. I take that as a strength of the play. I believe the majority of the stuff (that the characters say and do) does happen. It has to be true.

"But the delicious thing about the theater is that truth is the thing we are told until we are told something else. You can only do that on the stage. In the movies or on TV, you expect manipulation. But in the theate r, you can still surprise people. Oh, they say, we are not in a restaurant. We are in a rehearsal hall where actors are working on a scene in a restaurant.

"That delights me, that you can surprise people like that. I am amazed that they don't say, 'We aren't really in any of those places. We're in the theater.'"

• On "God's Country," which deals with right-wing extremists: "It amazes me that that is my most-produced play. I wish that play would never be done again, if that would mean no one could understand (hate crimes) anymore. Sadly, it is a story that won't go away."

• On Seattle: " I am from Denver, and my career began in Minneapolis. I worked at the Playwrights' Center and other theaters there, mostly as a director. I fell into writing by osmosis. We moved here because of A Contemporary Theater (which presents a lot of Dietz's work). Their commitment to my work got us out here.

"As hard as it was to leave Minneapolis and the theater community there, this is great. We have all that good gray writing weather. If you can't write a play in Seattle in the winter, you can't do it at all."


Riverfront Times review
Reviewed by Bob Wilcox

“Private Eyes” probes the stomach-churning emotions, both pleasant and painful, generated by an adulterous love affair. It’s the story of a woman shared by two men who are in close daily contact with each other – here the director of a play and the husband and wife who play the leading roles in it. “Private Eyes” reminded me of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” and Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.” But playwright Steven Dietz also throws in trompe l’oeil plot twists that had me thinking of David Mamet’s film “The Spanish Prisoner” and Jean Genet’s play “The Maids.” “The Spanish Prisoner” struck me as a largely empty exercise in mind games. I had the same reaction to the first of act of “Private Eyes,” which begins with an audition that turns out not to be an audition after all but a scene from a play. Dietz’ writing was clever, funny, sometimes scary, but without a lot of substance. In the second act, however, the uncertainty of the line between fantasy and reality becomes not merely a playwright’s cleverness, but, as in Genet, a way of revealing the insides of the characters and the ways that they – and we – deal with the curves life throws us, sometimes by constructing a parallel reality that’s more to our liking.

Stephanie Vogt plays the wife. Vogt has lovely, large blue eyes that you can believe both her husband and her director want to drown themselves in. More important, Vogt uses these eyes to show what’s going on inside her character – her assurance, her disdain, her uncertainty, her fear, her sorrow, the mingled triumph and dread the first time the director touches her. What’s happening in those eyes then resonates through Vogt’s voice and through all the rhythms of her performance.

As the husband of Vogt’s character, David Wassilak demonstrates once again that he has mastered the art of speaking volumes in the silence of a carefully timed, contemplative stare. And he can switch from that restraint to an almost boyish glee when something goes his way. You also notice, as the play progresses and you begin to catch on to what’s real and what’s fantasy, that Wassilak calibrate his performance on the reality-artificiality scale to match the moment in the script.

Joe Hanrahan plays he director of the play that Vogt and Wassilak’s huband-and-wife team are rehearsing. The director is British, but Hanrahan’s accent hovers somewhere over the Atlantic, often closer to the American shore than the English. Nor is the character’s easy, ingratiating charm something that comes naturally to Hanrahan. But any shortcomings in the details of Hanrahan’s portrayal of the character fade before the concentrated intensity with which he drives a scene forward.

As a character who starts out as a waitress in a delirious blond-beehive hairdo, then goes through a couple of surprising transformations, Susan Fay exercises a degree of control and flashes a wit that I haven’t seen in previous performances – this looks like a breakthrough role, technically, for her. Lynn Roseman completes the ensemble, somewhat unsteadily, as a counselor to both characters and audience.

Dick Colloton directs “Private Eyes” in the best way possible – unobtrusively. He’s also mounted it on the soundstage at Technisonic Studios against seamless white walls and floor. Appropriately for a play that mingles external and internal reality, the actors and their furniture seem to float in the blankness, suspended in Doug Hastings’ lighting.

 


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