Stage Struck

We've seen a spate of suspense dramas, such as Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth and Ira Levin's Deathtrap, that rely on constant, ingenious, and unexpected twists to keep us interested. Here, Simon Gray (Butley, Otherwise Engaged) tries his hand at the genre, with the added wrinkle that, perhaps for the first time ever, a stage manager is the hero-villain of a thriller. (Though there's a Ngaio Marsh mystery novel in which the Equity deputy is a prime suspect.

Robert Simon (Louis Lotorto) is a failed actor–stage manager who, for the last seven years, has become a house-husband for his theatre-star wife, Anne (Mary Gordon Murray). Despite the distracting presence of their American neighbor Herman (Kevin Symons), Robert is busily cooking dinner for Anne. But when she returns from the theatre, she announces that she's tired of Robert's multiple infidelities and has been seeing a psychiatrist named Widdicombe (Larry Cedar). She wants Robert to go into therapy as well, and furthermore she's planning to divorce him and claim possession of the house he loves. The thought of losing wife, comfortable life, and home drives him to desperate measures and possible dark deeds.

The characters are manipulative, and nobody is quite what he or she seems. There's a lot of clever British chitchat, but suspense is minimal (the one real shocker is a red herring), and the tortured plot strains credibility and patience. Rick Sparks is a skillful director who mounts the scenes effectively, but perhaps to compensate for the play's shortcomings he adds divertissements that are more distracting than helpful.

Lotorto is a bold, articulate, mercurial Robert, and Cedar, Symons, and Murray provide him with able sparring partners. Designer Kurt Boetcher provides the tricky and handsome set.

Presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Also Sat. 3 p.m. Feb. 17 & 24; Thu. 8 p.m. Mar. 1 & 8.) Feb. 10-Mar. 11. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15.