Earth and Sky | Castle Hill Players

Image by Chris Lundie

The city can be a brutal place to make a life with shifty characters and crime around every corner. Sara had thought she’d found her ticket out of her poky Chicago apartment in her soulmate David but then David is found shot dead and embroiled in a complicated web of kidnappings, extortion, and drugs. Did Sara’s imagination run away from her or is there someone else to blame?

Sara (Kate Jirelle) is creative, intelligent, and precocious; a poet and part-time librarian who can’t believe what the police are telling her about the man she had a whirlwind romance with before his body was found dumped in a dumpster. Detective HE Weber (Ben Freeman) and his perpetually hungry partner Detective Al Kernoskwi (Blake Michael Paish) are convinced David (Jason Spindlow) was tied up with two criminal heavyweights Julius Gatz and Carl Eisenstadt (Simon Walker) but Sara has her own suspicions about the owner of the bar where David was killed, Billy Hart (Brett Watkins), and the woman he supposedly met there, Marie Defaria (Lara Angseesing). But the more answers she uncovers, the more questions pop up including some rising suspicions about who’s really running the Chicago streets.

The set design by Stephen Snars amplified the noir genre of Douglas Post’s script with a colour palette of black, white, and red across a set that incorporated Sara’s bookish apartment, Billy’s bar, a restaurant for clandestine rendezvous and confrontations, and a lux little hotel room. Other elements included a foreboding darkened tunnel, two large clock faces representing the script’s movement between past and present, and enough bricks to fully recreate the atmosphere of the seedier side of Chicago. The lighting design by Heidi Brosnan interacted well with the set through ample use of shadows for intrigue and a particularly chilling spotlight to recreate train headlights. Additionally, Faith Jessel’s sound design was appropriate to the 1930s setting and added much tension to Sara’s repeated encounters with less-than-savoury sorts. The production design was particularly impressive for its comprehensive attention to detail in creating the hard, sinister tone of noir films from the heyday. Of note, as well, was Jessel’s integration of the stage hands and ensemble members (Mitchel Doran, Vanessa Purnama, and Lauren Austen-Smith) into the staging as background city folk who filled out crowd scenes, acted as body-doubles during Sara’s re-imaging of the crime scene, and contributed to scene transitions with elegantly choreographed set and prop movements. It was a subtle touch that gave the production a real air of professionalism and style.

Jessel’s direction in the characterisation of the lead Sara balanced her plucky, Nancy Drew personality against the mystery and condescension of both the criminal justice system and the criminals themselves. While it was easy to believe Jirelle’s Sara had the guts and stubbornness to push back against the police and investigate herself out of spite alone, it was harder to understand her heartbreak based on the somewhat stilted dynamic between Jirelle and Spindlow. This may smooth out with more performances or with a more relaxed pacing to their courtship conversations. However, the relationship between Sara and her new co-worker Joyce (Christine Wilson) was entertaining for its frivolity while the banter between Sara and Weber was equally entertaining for its high stakes. Freeman was especially committed to the noir aesthetic in his blunt speech and slick hat-handling skills. Other people of interest like Marie and Gatz filled out the underbelly community of the city with appropriately dramatic characterisations.

We all love a good mystery, especially if there’s a murder, and Jessel’s rendition of Earth and Sky is a faithful and entertaining nod to the peak of film noir. With an impressive production design and sophisticated staging this production allowed the audience to get swept up in the drama right along with Sara as she really got to know the man she fell in love with.

Earth and Sky is running at the Pavilion Theatre from May 13th – June 4th

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