Be Afraid–Be Very Afraid of Strangers on a Train

Clabby, Petrovic, Mullen. Photo by Eric Keitel.

For many people, the title of this play may seem vaguely familiar.  In fact, the Patricia Highsmith novel was adapted in 1951 as a hard-hitting noir film directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock.  But now, playwright Craig Warner has taken the source material and crafted a tense and suspenseful play performed by Theatre Forty’s talented cast and directed by veteran television director, Jules Aaron.

The play opens, as the film did, with a scene set in tone of the once-posh salon cars that used to ferry passengers through England in comfort.  Two strangers share drinks, with Charles Bruno (archly played by Michael Mullen) bantering in a macabre manner.  He draws in budding architect Guy Haines (Joe Clabby), inviting him to speculate how the two might commit the perfect crime.

What might be a fun speculation, though, turns deadly as Bruno insinuates himself into Haines’ life, even to the point of inviting himself to the young man’s wedding to spunky Anne Faulkner (Anica Petrovic). Because Bruno keeps his side of the speculative double murder, he insists that Haines complies and murders Bruno’s father.  He draws up a complicated ground plan to complete the deed.  Will Haines finish the job? 

Along the way, we are treated to a meticulous examination of the psychology of a psychopath.  Bruno is depicted as a Mama’s boy whose mother (Sharron Shayne) seems to make up for a loveless marriage by smothering her son.

Fortunately, although the audience is meticulously drawn in and becomes complicit, thankfully the marvelous Larry Eisenberg as veteran detective Arthur Gerard is on hand to follow the breadcrumbs to unravel the tangled web, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Theatre Forty’s company more than stands up to the complexities of Craig Warner’s adaptation; but, sadly, the stage craft fails.  The long stage affords nooks and crannies in which to stage individual scenes, but the theatre lacks technology to accomplish the changes.  Director Jules Aaron applies his considerable television background to supercede these limitations and largely succeeds.  Still, this is a tense, suspenseful production that shouldn’t be missed! Strangers on a Train continues at Theatre Forty’s Beverly Hills High School location; 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills 90212 Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through February 4th.All tickets $35.  For reservations, phone (310) 364-0515 or online at