Theater reviewer Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.
The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) deliver suspense, intrigue, and stage magic with John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night. Adapted by Matt Pelfrey from the book that inspired the 1967 Oscar-winning film, In the Heat of the Night is compelling theater with themes that often touch on modern ones.
|Detective Tibbs and Officer Sam Wood driving to the scene
of the crime. Photo courtesy of The REP.
El-Amin is excellent in portraying Tibbs as thoughtful and strong in a setting where the color of his skin can (and does) lead to dehumanizing actions by those around him. Tibbs is always trying to be the bigger man, upholding the honor of his person and race despite overt attacks against both. (Be prepared for onstage violence and strong language which includes racist, antisemitic, and homophobic slurs.)
Chief Gillespie (Lee E. Ernst) is a key antagonist to Tibbs. He dislikes both the situation and the race of the man who’s been tasked to help him solve the murder. But with each passing day, a modicum of respect creeps into the Chief’s interactions with Tibbs. Ernst does well as an often-flustered man who should control more than he does but is always being told otherwise. Ultimately, even after Tibbs “starting to grow” on him, Gillespie can’t bring himself to shake the man’s hand whose respect he’s earned.
While this story hits all the checkboxes for an entertaining detective story, it’s also an undeniable social commentary. Director Cameron Knight said, “We are at a moment in our country, with our art, politics, and even our interactions, where we operate in extremes: extreme rage, patriotism, protesting, etc.”
“For many, it makes any conversation of our history; our journey to this moment and how we deal with each other a delicate subject and often avoided. I believe we must be able to go towards difficult, uncomfortable conversations and at times, actions, in order to grow positively. We are fractured as a society and if we don’t begin to confront our past and the needs of our future, we are on a path towards despair.”
“This play offers a glimpse into the many levels of corruption that exist within our culture and institutions, shows the harsh and firm mindsets that are at odds, and invites us to examine who we want to be. Do we want to grow, or do we merely want to win?”
Hats off to the creative team for making the production a multimedia feast for the senses with articulating stage parts, 3-D dynamic curtains, and graphic video enhancements. Britton Mauk (Scenic Designer), Dawn Chiang (Lighting Designer), and Patrick W. Lord (Projection Designer) took the collective vision of Director Knight plus Interim Producing Artistic Director Steve Tague and did an amazing job.
Standout performers include Michael Gotch as conflicted policeman Sam Wood and Stephen Pelinski as both defiant Harvey Oberst and eerily protective Mr. Purdy. If this were a classic melodrama, we’d all boo and hiss at Mic Matarrese for his strong work as Pete — a cop and Klansman whose segregationist beliefs are pungently strong.
Performances of In the Heat of the Night run through November 19 in the Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus. Tickets prices are $30-39 with discounts available for students, seniors, and University of Delaware faculty and staff.
The Thompson Theatre in the Roselle Center for the Arts is ADA-compliant and is equipped with a hearing loop system, which works with hearing aid t-coils, cochlear implants, and in-house hearing devices. Wheelchair and other seating requests can be made prior to the performance by calling the number above or emailing email@example.com.