TRENTON, NJ – It’s a bit of a haul, but a trip to Passage Theatre in Trenton is worth it, certainly for its current production, “Slippery as Sin” by David Lee White.
This professional theater, housed in a former church, is intimate and appealing. Mill Hill Playhouse is at the corner of Front and Montgomery streets.
The plot centers on a devious plan by Diabolicus, we’re informed, to infiltrate a manor on an island. It seems Diabolicus has leftist, anarchist leanings. The time is 1933 and a gathering at the mansion is being held to announce the engagement of Lolly Ballinger to Harry Cleek. Lolly is Madam Sarah Beltham’s niece and Harry has been assisting a local detective and writing about his exploits. Lolly is played with just the right hint of hysteria by Joniece Abbott-Pratt. Justin Jain as Harry displays the loyalty that makes him a foil for those who are conniving for their own ends.
We meet Detective Dorrington, slickly played by Greg Wood. He has been dismissed from the Police Department, but nonetheless pursues a ruthless killer whom he has traced to the mansion of Madam Beltham, played by June Ballinger. Ballinger is priceless in her deceptions and efforts to pronounce Diabolicus’s name. Very much the grand dame, she has little use for the butler, Morrison, played with haughty grandeur by Trent Blanton. The door slamming alone is worth the price of admission, not to mention the constant thunder outside the mullioned windows of the regal home. Harry’s father, Randolph, is also at the house and has his own agenda involving his munitions factory. Brian Anthony Wilson plays Randolph, yet another character who has devious motives.
It seems the storm has washed out the only bridge, recalling Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” But “Slippery as Sin” is done with glee and melodramatic flair. Despite the door slamming and thunder, every word can be heard as the hi-jinks become more intricate and hilarious. White has written a wildly entertaining farce, with sharp dialogue and double takes.
Adam Immerwahr directed this improbable, 90-minute tale with split-second timing. Nick Kourtides deserves kudos for the sound design that keeps the terror at high pitch, with an ongoing ‘dark and stormy night.’ Paul Kilsdonk’s lighting design adds to the gloom and doom, especially with all those blackouts. Robin I. Shane’s costumes neatly fit the bill for the period and Jeff Van Velsor’s simple but handsome set conveys the former grandeur of a country home.
Mysteries on stage are often a letdown, but this one keeps the audience engaged from start to finish. Yes, there are loose ends, but rapid fire timing keeps it all going strong. Let’s hope White’s play travels to other area theatres.