Sep 23

Vertigo Theatre’s ‘In the Heat of the Night’ sizzles

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Tension runs high in Vertigo Theatre’s In the Heat of the Night. Specifically racial tension. Set in Argo, Alabama in 1962, the play, based on the novel by John Ball explores the story of a murder of a wealthy real estate developer Charles Tatum and the homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Daren Herbert) from Pasadena, California. Tibbs was originally suspected for the crime but then is later revealed to be a detective who should help with the case, much to the chagrin of Chief Police Officer Gillespie (the impeccable Kevin Rothery). Officer Sam Wood (Stafford Perry) is helping on the case and Officer Pete (Kevin Corey) is sitting on the case. There are a many supporting cast members who round out the story.

Vertigo Theatre is risking a lot putting on In the Heat of the Night as their opening play. It’s high drama, set in a time of racial turbulence and Matt Pelfrey’s scripts makes no apologies about the brutal prejudice that permeates the entire play featuring lines like: ‘he ran out of here as if he’d find a cure to being black.’ It’s jarring and unhinging and really illustrates the difficulty of the times, in being anyone of colour in Alabama in the 1960s.

The play would fall apart if Herbert wasn’t as solid as he is in this production. His performance is so vital to the success of the play, in that the audience has to be with him, throughout the entirety of the narrative. Herbert does not disappoint. In fact, no one in the cast puts forward a weak performance.  Everyone has the audience in the palm of their hand, taking you along the twists and turns of the murder case. Rothery is outstanding as Chief Gillespie and Corey takes on the role of officer Pete right down to the way he moved. He managed to convey and false bravado and prejudice even in his stance.

Scott Reid’s set and lighting design, coupled with Dewi Wood’s sound composition and design in addition to Kate Newby’s direction create the ambiance and pull of the narrative. Reid’s car design on stage is creative and works well within the storyline, composed of headlights and seats that move mechanically. Wood’s detailed sound design even comprises the sounds of birds in the quiet moments and dogs barking and snarling in the moments of fear. Amongst all of these elements, the star is Kevin Corey’s fight direction. It allows the characters to create fighting movements on stage that illustrates the ruthless and racist violence. It allows the audience to feel fear when Virgil Tibbs is viciously attacked. It has Herbert flipping Corey over, dropping on his back that it’s a surprise he can still walk after it. It is the lifeblood to the audience buying into the narrative. And the audience needs to buy in.

In the Heat of the Night isn’t a weak punch of a murder mystery. Its honest in it’s presentation with strong performances and strong elements to tell a poignant story. It’s not an easy play to watch, but if we don’t know where we came from, we can’t know where we are going.

Photo Credit: Daren Hebert and Kevin Rothery in Vertigo Theatre’s BD&P Mystery Theatre Series In the Heat of the Night. Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo

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