Theater review

Tom Titus

Truth may very well be stranger than fiction, but when both are

intertwined and mingled with shifting time periods, the result can be

quite strange indeed.

Don Nigro's "Tainted Justice," now on stage at OCC's Drama Lab Theater,

is such an entity.

Based on an actual 1913 murder case in Nova Scotia that was never fully

resolved, the play segues in and out of chronological order, often with

actors from both past and present sharing the stage.

It's a difficult organizational assignment, yet director John Ferzacca

stitches the play's diverse elements together almost seamlessly. Perhaps

his most important contribution is the production's overall atmosphere --

which, were it fast-forwarded three decades or so and adapted to the

screen, could be labeled film noir.

"Tainted Justice" begins in the present of 1920, with a murdered man's

daughter searching for the truth behind her father's strange bludgeoning

death in 1913.

The OCC actors move smoothly through past and present action, unraveling

the facts in the case in a gradual, unhurried style that focuses on

character depiction rather than whodunit-style plot.

It's a splendid ensemble production, highlighted by two extremely

arresting performances: Jessica Marie Hutchinson is spellbinding as the

victim's provocative widow, a beauty capable of luring men into dangerous

and unchartered territory. And Donald Lee Kindle renders a superlative

account of the accused, a drifter-con man with a wryly ironic take on his

circumstances.

Russell Taylor impresses as the town's crackerjack attorney, famed for

his courtroom triumphs. He defends the man suspected of killing his

aunt's husband. Pamela L. Russell lends staunch support as his wife, a

woman endowed with almost saint-like qualities.

As the murder victim, Timothy Maurer projects a sour, dislikable

character -- in vivid contrast to Hutchinson's vivacious style. Paulina

Brown is compelling as their daughter, probing into the gray areas of her

mother's life for both information and acceptance.

The only discordant note in the show is Gregory Ghica's performance as

Hutchinson's brother and Taylor's father; his advanced age and European

accent place him outside the ensemble. Stephen Moore competently handles

the role of the case's prosecutor.

"Tainted Justice" plays against a marvelous set backdrop created by

jack-of-all-trades David Scaglione -- who also handled the lighting

design and sketched the program cover artwork. Cynthia Corley's period

costumes work exceptionally well for the production.

Director Ferzacca has a knack for finding new material -- often creating

it himself -- and this Orange County premiere is a prime example.

"Tainted Justice" lures you into its web of intrigue with the appeal of a

finely crafted mystery.

Ferzacca's background music completes the picture splendidly, as does the

show's theme song, "Just a Song at Twilight," played intermittently on

the piano by two of its actors. There is a haunting fragility about the

piece that lingers long after the final fade-out.

FYI

* What: "Tainted Justice"* When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m.

Sunday

* Where: OCC Drama Lab Theater, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa

* Cost: $8 and $9

* Call: (714) 432-5880

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