There’s a sneaky feeling about watching live theater, especially in a small venue. Sitting just a few feet from the stage, the audience is like a collective peeping Tom, concealed in the dark, peering through a large picture window.
In Pewter Plough Playhouse’s current production, “Snake in the Grass,” audience members witness a lush patio-garden as a somber-looking, middle-aged woman appears.
Meet Annabel Chester, played by Sharyn Young, who has returned to the family home after a long absence to settle her father’s estate.
The serenity is shattered when a Rubenesque figure in a revealing dress sashays in. It’s Alice Moody, the father’s former nurse, delightfully played by Sharee Hallman.
The straight-laced Annabel is repulsed by the intrusive, brazen woman, whose ample hips sway and breasts bounce as she slithers her long scarf up and down her neck like a stripper about to whip it off.
The play’s title is a bit nebulous, as Alice isn’t at all sneaky about her intentions.
She shows Annabel proof that younger sister Miriam Chester, played by Toni Young, gave her ailing father a nudge, actually a shove, to put him (and herself) out of misery. After demanding a big chunk of change — 100,000 pounds, to be exact — to keep her red-lipsticked mouth shut, the nurse saunters out, with a promise to return the next day and settle up.
That’s when little sister Miriam, still living in the house these many years, makes her appearance. She moves her lanky body around like a collapsible string doll while wailing about her situation, providing a perfect contrast to her tightly wound older sister.
As the women move about in the nighttime garden, the glowing lanterns cast writhing shadows.
Deciding on the fate of a family home after the parents have died often triggers disputes even among loving siblings. For the venomous Chester sisters, it gets ugly.
British playwright Alan Ayckbourne’s play then takes a sudden turn, sheds the skin of being an ordinary mystery and emerges as a chilling psychological drama.
A dash of humor — light and dark — provides some comic relief.
Director Kelli Howard sees to it that her players’ dialogue overlaps just enough to remain intelligible, lending a realistic touch to their exchanges.
During a recent performance, Sharyn Young and Toni Young flawlessly delivered their lengthy, emotionally fraught monologues. Trying to effect British accents increased their challenge; plus, Sharyn Young must also handle the load of appearing slightly inebriated.
In one finger-biting scene, as Mariam grapples with Alice, the women accomplish a seemingly impossible feat that must be seen to be believed. That physical maneuver alone is worth the price of admission.
No details will be revealed here, however; the play is, after all, a mystery.
Reach freelance writer Lee Sutter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Snake in the Grass’
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Nov. 3
Where: Pewter Plough Playhouse, 824 Main St., Cambria
Admission: $16 to $21, $19 seniors
Information: 927-3877 or www.pewterploughplayhouse.org