By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Back in the day when TV only came in two colors and three channels, evening programming was filled with all manner of murder mysteries from Ellery Queen and all that bunch.
Local playwright John Vornholt remembers those times so fondly he reached back 30 years for one of his own scripts, “Black Linen,” which the very new Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists opened last weekend in the far eastside APCOT theater, on Tanque Verde Road at the intersection with Bear Canyon Road.
The intrigue of psychic powers – who has them and who doesn’t – stirs at the center of this shadowy case clearly presented by four experienced Tucson actors. Vornholt loves creating deep suspense.
Happiness for him would be getting to stir the pot of those three witches in “Macbeth.” Vornholt believes it's all about the flavors (bubbling over with toil and trouble), not so much about the ingredients (eye of newt, etc.)
It is no surprise the flavors in “Black Linen” are as distinctive as an Orange Julius, and with ingredients just as difficult to identify.
Denise Blum defines duplicity playing Clare, a shadowy figure known for her psychic powers. She lives alone with her cranky housekeeper Harriett (Sydney Flynn), occasionally entertaining police officers who have only random clues about one murder or another.
Her psychic world is very private and she intends to keep it that way. Well, except for young Beverly (Amy Scully), a protege with some natural psychic powers Claire is helping to develop.
Providing an elaborate backstory, Clare insists she wants to retire from the professional psychic game. She's tired of all the police department procedures, being ignored and then being called in only when the department has no idea what to do next.
Clare wants Beverly to take over Clare's post. As a kind of graduation test she hands Beverly a swatch of black linen taken from a baby's blanket – a dead baby.
Beverly puts the cloth to her cheek...and instantly feels overwhelmed with visions of violence.
That's about the time Robert (Boz Lomasney) comes on, introduced as a detective who has some questions and a request of Clare.
Now it is up to this cast to make real the mystery of unseen powers. The chemistry between Blum and Scully is convincing as first one, then the other seems to be in charge. Their weapons are invisible yet we can feel the impact of their mental blows.
As this conflict develops it also turns out that Harriett the housekeeper and Robert the detective are not exactly what they seemed, either.
Vornholt has constructed his play so the ending is open to interpretation. After each performance, Sheldon Metz the director leads an audience discussion on different impressions of exactly what the ending has implied.
The ending doesn't change, it is always the same every evening. But the particular clues each person has picked up during the performance will affect how the final resolution is interpreted.
"Black Linen" runs through May 29, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, at APCOT Theatre, 8892 W. Tanque Verde Road at Bear Canyon Road.
Tickets are $18 general admission, $15 students and seniors, free for active duty military. For tickets, www.brownpapertickets.com,