UNCSA presents mystery thriller “Dangerous Corner” by J.B. Priestley

The schools of Drama and Design and Production at UNCSA will present “Dangerous Corner,” by J.B. Priestley, in late March. One of three “time plays” by the British author, dramatist and broadcaster, “Dangerous Corner” centers on a moment at a dinner party that ignites a series of events and revisits that moment and its repercussions through different versions of the timeline.

“Dangerous Corner” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. March 23-25, and March 30-April 1, and at 2 p.m. March 26 at the Catawba Theatre on the UNCSA campus, 1533 South Main St. Tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID and $20 for adults, available at  www.uncsa.edu/performances or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.

"Dangerous Corner" 1/4" Scale Model / Photo: Johanna Fleischer"Dangerous Corner" Load-in / Photo: Johanna Fleischer"Dangerous Corner" 1/4" Scale Model / Photo: Johanna Fleischer

Set in a small village outside of London in 1932, “Dangerous Corner” takes the audience to the country retreat of Robert and Freda Caplan, who are entertaining guests at a dinner party for executives of a trans-Atlantic publishing company. A chance remark by one of the guests ignites a series of devastating revelations.

The production is Drama student Caroline Cearley’s fourth-year directing thesis. Johanna Fleischer, a fourth-year Design and Production student, is the scenic designer. The two worked together closely to bring to life the art deco glamour of 1932 and to slowly reveal the dark secrets beneath its shiny surface.

“I’m drawn to the mystery thriller genre because it causes the audience to lean in, and then you can talk about the things that are important,” Cearley said. “The story was ahead of its time. It deals with ideas that the modern world accepts now, but didn’t so much accept then.

Caroline Cearley, director

Caroline Cearley, director

“I decided to set it in the time the playwright set it in, in historic detail, because I think audience members can more easily connect with the story in the time that it’s written.”

“It was really fun to work with that period, because it is so classy, and reminds us of the Chrysler Building and ‘The Great Gatsby,’” Fleischer said. “I worked a lot with the props department to repurpose items that were already on hand to fit the art deco period.”

Cearley is from Cary and spent two years studying social work at Appalachian State University in Boone before coming to UNCSA. She said that she would like to become an artistic director at a theater where she can bring social justice themes into her work.

“‘Dangerous Corner’ is a story about people not being what they seem and life not being what it seems,” Cearley said. “There’s a debate about uncovering the truth. Is it worth it? How can we even know the truth when everyone’s experience is different? Might it not be better to leave things alone?

“The set and the show are like a beautiful tapestry. Then one string gets pulled and everything starts to unravel.”

That unraveling shows itself in the characters and the look of the play.

Fleischer, who is from Durham, said: “Back in October, I spent about two weeks online and in the UNCSA Library doing research on the art deco style, then taking all those images to Caroline and talking about what we liked. We wanted to give it a library/living room feel, because all of the characters are people in publishing.

Johanna Fleischer, scenic designer

Johanna Fleischer, scenic designer

“We wanted it to be glamorous — almost too glamorous — as if it’s hiding something behind how pretty it is,” Fleischer continued. “One thing we talked about was having the design have realism and pretense at the beginning, but the look of the stage changes and the characters’ accents start to fall back into little things that may have been there before they joined this elite world, and the sounds get a little more distorted.”

“As the characters unravel so does the design,” Cearley said. “The set is the constant, but lighting and body language reveal what has been hidden.”

The clean angles and shiny surfaces of the art deco style support the tension in the play, Fleischer explained. “The room is beautiful but not exactly comfortable. There are almost no round elements in the show; lots of angles — except for the clock, because the playwright plays with time.”

The scenic designer is responsible for the “look” of everything on stage except the costumes, Fleischer said, but not for the technical process of how that look is created. For that, Fleischer said she uses sketches, drawings and technical drafts to convey her vision to the crew, which will then build it. She then presents paint elevations — very small-scale paintings — to the paint charge, who will paint the set in real life. Next, she produces a props package, which is a document that lists every single thing in the show and what it should look like, including furniture, glasses, books, anything hung on the wall, and telephones.

“The very last thing I do is create a model — a very small version of the set,” Fleischer said. “It’s a great communication tool between departments.

“I really appreciate being able to work with other students on such a collaborative project. It’s really rewarding to work with other artists to create a beautiful piece of art together.”

The cast of “Dangerous Corner” includes School of Drama students Sofie Berg as Freda Caplan, Brooke Stephenson as Olwen Peel, Ferin Bergen as Betty Whitehouse, Grace Steckler as Miss Mockridge, Owen Harrison as Robert Caplan, Logan Gould as Charles Stanton, and Hunter McCoy as Gordon Whitehouse.

From the School of Design and Production; the scenic designer is Johanna Fleischer; the costume designer is Sarah McElcheran; the lighting designer is Kelsey Forero; the production stage manager is Quinn Mishra; the deck stage manager is Isabella Tapia; the sound designer is Sandy Garcia; the wig and makeup designer is Dustin Kirby; the production manager is Lauren C. Wieland; the technical director is Cris George; the scenic paint charge is Kenzie Lawson; the properties director is Alexandra Rousseau; and the director of production is Cassidy Bowles.

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March 01, 2023