By: Alexandra Milman
39 Blyth Blvd, written by Cullen McGrail and directed by Izzy Solis Lozano, is an interesting production which could be outstanding with just a little bit more work. Performed as part of the 2017 Youth Infringement Festival , 39 Blyth Blvd is about the proprietor of 39 Blyth Blvd, Mrs. M, who throughout the play attends a series of interviews with Detective N about the investigation into the murder of one of Mrs. M’s tenants, Vivian. Mrs. M is an unusual, very antisocial woman who keeps very close track of everyone who leaves or enters her building. She has, in fact, only ever met one of her tenants, being Vivian, but has memorized the footsteps of all eleven of them. As the play and the investigation continue, Mrs. M begins to look increasingly suspicious in regards to the murder. When it is revealed that the only two people in the building at the time of the incident are Mrs. M and Vivian, we realize all is not what it seems.
Throughout this 40 minute play there are things that work well, and things that could be made stronger. Looking at the technical aspect of the play, in terms of the music: when Mrs. M is in her home at the beginning of the production, you can hear some 1920s music playing on what sounds like a radio or a CD/ tape player. I really enjoyed this element as it introduces us to Mrs. M, and lets us know that she is an older woman who probably grew up listening to that kind of music, and is most likely still a little old fashioned. It also gives us the feeling that this is probably an older building, most likely not renovated in a while, which helps set the mood of the scene.
On the other hand, something that takes away from the experience is the phone ringing in the detective’s office: though we see the phone sitting on the desk, the sound is very loud and is obviously coming from the speakers above of the audience. This for me is a bit distracting. I believe it would have been more effective if the sound actually came from the phone, as opposed to the sound booth, just to keep it more realistic. I think this would keep the audience more engaged in the world that the artists are creating.
However, the sound coming from the speakers does work in the moment when the tenants of 39 Blyth Blvd are walking down the stairs. In the beginning of the play, Mrs. M mentions that her chair is positioned directly under the stairs for the sole purpose that she can hear who leaves and when. Therefore, when the sound of the footsteps comes from on top of the audience it is as if we are hearing exactly what Mrs. M would hear and it let the audience feel as though they were there with her.
There aren’t really any elaborate backdrops or costumes: the detective wears grey pants, with a white dress shirt and tie, a hat, and the stereotypical detective’s trench coat. The costume Mrs. M wears isn’t very fancy but it defines the character as it shows the approximate time period, that she isn’t particularly wealthy, and gives us some insight into her approximate age. The stage is set up so that a coffee table standing center-stage divides the space in two: on one side there is the detective’s office and on the other side is Mrs. M’s personal living space, which includes some 1920’s looking furniture, an armchair, a little side table, and a wooden door and frame. This works well for this production as the characters are constantly moving between the two locations.
Something that I found really interesting is that every time Mrs. M crosses to the side of the stage where her home is presumed to be, she always changes into her slippers leaving her shoes by the coffee table. Even crossing over during her conversations with the detective, she changes her shoes every time. Because of this, I interpreted her action of switching her shoes as a sign of the character reliving the past and/or getting flashbacks of what had happened the day Vivian died. One of the reasons I believe this is because near the end of the play Mrs. M slips into her slippers and then we actually see her enter Vivian’s apartment only to find her dead. Obviously, this had already happened a while ago, which is why the investigation is taking place.
Another interesting element to this show is that Mrs. M, dressed in her slippers, is in her apartment at the same time that the detective is questioning her, and, as she answers his questions, she looks at the audience and not him. I believe the reason for this is because she is in another mindset, and this ‘other person’ in her head is reliving these flashbacks and is therefore not fully aware of the Detective.
Mrs. M herself was a very interesting and slightly eerie character. First of all, she definitely appears to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as she always writes down exactly what time everyone enters and leaves the house. Around the middle of the play, when the detective is questioning Mrs. M at the same time as one of her tenants is leaving the house, she seems in pain as she tries to resist writing down who is leaving and when. In the end, she gives in and writes down the time and the name of the tenant leaving before answering the Detective’s questions.
She also seems to be a sociopath as she appears very detached and doesn’t show hardly any emotion at all. For example, she appears to be devastated and crying when she is speaking to the detective and realizes that she heard Vivian’s murder. However, the moment the Detective leaves she takes her head out of her hands and is smirking, obviously unaffected. It seems as if she is trying to play a character and tries to react as they would have. Later, she walks into Vivian’s apartment to find her hanging from a noose and is totally unfazed as if it were normal. She says something along the lines of, “there you are”/ “There she is” and proceeds to turn away, forge a note from Vivian, then takes her laptop. After watching this play the character was definitely a topic of discussion for quite a while, as in the play they don’t outright tell you that she is unusual but, throughout the production, there are hints and moments that definitely leave you thinking about who Mrs. M really is.
Sarah Thuswaldner, playing Mrs. M, does a very good job embodying this strange character. Though the actress is much younger than the character she is portraying, her performance is very detailed like in how the character moves on stage, with her hunched back and her slow and steady pace, which she sticks with throughout the entire performance. She also owned everything she was doing on stage and has good volume and pitch which she changed depending on the situation the character was in. Overall, the character and her reactions seemed real and genuine.
When it comes to the reveal of Vivian’s body, I certainly have mixed emotions. In my opinion, this really should have been the climax, however, the cartoonish way that Vivian’s silhouette is drawn onto a piece of plastic hung from the door frame turns it into a joke, which ruins the moment for me. On the other hand, I understand that the director is trying to show that Vivian’s death is meaningless to Mrs. M. In this sense, I thought it is clever how she rips down the plastic sheet, rolls it up, and throws it out the window without any struggle. This shows, to me, how detached this character is and that Vivian’s death doesn’t affect her at all, seeming like more of an annoying mess for Mrs. M to clean up. For this reason, I would keep the silhouette on the cloth but make it a little more proportional and realistic to fit with the rest of the production.
Overall seeing this play was a wonderful (interesting) experience that definitely left me with something to think about after the show ended. For that reason, if you are someone who likes a good mystery, then 39 Blyth Blvd is a play for you.