Spending some time in a quiet country house is a prospect many would relish. What could go wrong? In plays like “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight!” from the Freeport Players, the answer is: plenty.

Author Peter Colley was aware of treading on familiar theatrical ground in this 1979 play, which recalls themes from several classic thrillers. So, even as he delivered a few edge-of-your-seat jolts, he also made sure some lighter moments would let the audience in on the fun.

The story concerns a long-married couple who’ve rented a remote farmhouse with the hope it would further wife Jan’s recovery from a recent nervous breakdown. Jan doesn’t much like the plan but goes along as she seeks to rekindle the romance in her marriage.

Little comfort is provided by eccentric neighbor George, who recounts macabre tales of murders and ghosts associated with the house. A visit from Greg’s condescending sister Laura further puts Jan on edge.

Bizarre and deceptive familial relationships are the fuel that slowly ignites into a conflagration of terrifying action as the play moves to a climax. As the body count rises and true motivations are finally revealed, will virtue prevail?

Hali Fortin plays Jan with the appropriate sense of someone who’s taking baby steps back into the – as it turns out – elusive rational world. Thwarted at every turn by seemingly helpful others, Jan’s perseverance is one of the play’s most important elements.

Paul Menezes, as husband Greg, is a nerdy academic whose past suggests depths which give a twist to his apparent stability. Menezes deftly allows just quick peeks behind his character’s regular-guy mask as the plot builds.

Karyn Diamond’s Laura hides behind deceptive smirks as her backstory plays slowly into the theatrical mix. Diamond effectively walks the line between sinister and sympathetic as things begin to unravel.

Andrew Mass, as George, also divides his role to raise the question as to whether he is simply there for comic relief or something more. Mass’s gangly hayseed embodies the sometimes sordid details buried within the seeming simplicities of rural life.

Director Linda Duarte emphasizes the unsettling trajectory of the play. The rustic, single-room set, decorated with primitive weaponry, serves this end, as do spooky lighting and sound effects.

An anxious ambiance leavened with just enough comedy, plus some old-school shocks, make for frightfully good entertainment in Freeport.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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