A Shot in the Dark at Albany Civic Theater struggles to find its way

A Shot in the Dark at Albany Civic Theater struggles to find its way

A comedy often isn’t an easy thing; neither is a mystery. Put the two together and without a deft hand, the show can fall flat. Unfortunately, “A Shot in the Dark,” currently running at Albany Civic Theater and directed by Rachael Sheffer, doesn’t quite make it as either a comedy or a mystery.

Paul Sevigne (Wayne Bowmanchester) is a magistrate new to Paris, on his first case: Josefa Lantenay, (Sara Baldwin), a maid found unconscious beside the corpse of her lover, holding the gun that killed him. Since her employers are well-known and well-to-do, Paul’s boss tells him the case is cut and dried – question Josefa, get a confession and send her to jail. Paul, however, knows there’s something wrong with Josefa’s story and, although the easy thing for his career would be to put her away, digs to find the truth about what happened that night.

The show is set in Paris, and Sheffer chose to have the actors use French accents throughout; they were utilized with various levels of skill, and made some actors’ dialogue almost completely unintelligible. A suspension of disbelief and a loss of the accents would have been fine and I’m willing to bet not a single audience member would have noticed the choice. The show itself relies on a quick pickup of lines and needs brisk pacing, and this did not occur. The comedy was lost in how slow the lines were delivered, which was sometimes a function of lines being dropped, sometimes a problem with the accents and sometimes just a pacing issue. The mystery itself seemed to be solved by intermission, making Act 2 extraneous; this is more a function of the script, which needed a good 45 minutes or so cut out of it, than the direction.

Bowmanchester, in his role as the magistrate, played the straight man to the supposed comedy well; he had the whole show to carry on his back, and was one of the things that held it together. Unfortunately, Baldwin, who we should have been rooting for throughout, was very hard to watch. She was leaden in the role where she should have been spritely and didn’t seem to pick up any energy until the final ten minutes or so. It was hard to see the actors attempting to play off her when she didn’t give them anything to work with. Gary M. Hoffman, as Josefa’s employer, has excellent comedic timing – it’s unfortunate it was wasted here.

Adam M. Coons’s set was beautiful – his 1960s magistrate’s office was believable and stately, lined with actual books, and extremely roomy – it made for a good space for the actors to play in. Ditto for Beth Ruman’s costumes – everyone was dressed perfectly, and the women, especially, sparkled in their ‘60s finery.

This doesn’t seem to have been an easy script to work with, and the accents really hurt the show before it began – there were a lot of things working against it, and it’s truly unfortunate the piece seems to have fallen apart.

“A Shot in the Dark,” Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany, through May 21, $18-$10, Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, (518) 462-1297,

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