Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Tantallon Community Players In the Heat of the Night

By • Feb 28th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
In the Heat of the Night
Tantallon Community Players
Harmony Hall Regional Center, Ft. Washington, MD
Through March 4th
2:15 with one intermission
$15/$12 Seniors and Students
Reviewed February 24th, 2012

In the Heat of the Night is a play by John Ball. When a Northern jobs developer is found dead by the side of the road in rural Alabama, the first person arrested is an African-American man who is trying to catch a train out of town. He is actually a detective from Los Angeles, but in Alabama in 1962 that does not mean a lot. Racial tensions run high as the detective is asked to help solve the case while dealing with prejudice, a surly chief sheriff, and the Klan. This play was powerful. While part of the time you were trying to figure out who the killer was, most of the time was spent understanding the characters in this drama.

Virgil Tibbs was the Los Angeles detective who, unfortunately was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was arrested for the murder of Mr. Tatum. Tibbs was played by Charles Watley, who brought a strong command of emotion and feeling to the role. Watley was intense and was always ready to defend himself, both physically as well as emotionally in what could be considered the “backwater town” of Argo, Alabama. Watley was strong and always cut right to the chase. Watley was impressive as he played the part realistically, such as showing that injuries he received early on continued to cause pain throughout the rest of the show. Tibbs managed to produce grudging respect by a few of the locals. One was police officer Sam Wood, played by Doug Graupman. Wood was pretty peaceable and although he was unwilling to stand up fully for Tibbs, he tried to protect him in his own way. The two could almost be considered friends in a small way. Both Watley and Graupman were emotionally strong characters. The other major character was Chief Gillespie played by Brian Donohue. Rough and constantly grumpy he and Tibbs almost seemed to enjoy disagreeing as they tried to figure out the murder. In the end Donohue found a grudging tolerance (to say respect in a 1962 segregated South would be too much) for the work performed by Tibbs. Donohue made us respect the Chief as he fought with the mayor despite trying to bluff his way through the murder investigation.

Both Noreen Purdy (Morgan Skye Hamilton) and Melanie Tatum (Joanna Kenlon) gave solid performances. Hamilton played an obvious flirt which eventually got her into more trouble than she bargained for. Her character was easy to get along with and she was more than comfortable on stage. Kenlon was more refined and perhaps a bit withdrawn, but was still believable in her role as the victim’s daughter.

Set designer and director Charla Rowe made a wise choice in making the set basically black, as there were many scene changes throughout the production. There were only a few set pieces used, but they were arranged quickly by the cast. The simple set also allowed you to focus on the acting and not the background. Light Designer Sheryl Fry used colored lights to accent certain areas of the stage, although there were times when a wash might have allowed the actors to have a greater range of motion. Ron Rowe’s sound design accented each scene. The sounds as Tibbs and Wood were driving around were especially effective. The Harmony Hall staff though made mistakes with several light and sound cues early in the performance, which was distracting. Alex Zavistovich’s fight scenes were compelling, as they proceeded quickly, helping to impact the audience with their shock.

In the Heat of the Night contains strong language (profanity and racial slurs authentic to the Deep South in 1962) and adult situations. Catch this rarely produced show while you can, with a great performance from Charles Watley as “Mr. Tibbs.”

Director’s Notes

In The Heat of the Night begins with a murder on a hot summer night in Argo, a small town in the segregated Alabama of 1962. (You may have seen the 1967 movie, which is lightly different but also based on the novel by Ball.) Virgil Tibbs, a visiting Los Angeles homicide detective, is mistakenly arrested at the town’s train station, as an unknown African-American with money in his wallet. Because the murder victim is a northern businessman about to bring a factory and employment opportunities to this depressed town, necessity soon forces a racist community and its sheriff Bill Gillespie, to face an ironic truth: They must depend on Virgil Tibbs’s expertise in solving the murder. Tensions coul not be higher in the midst of the dangerous atmosphere that saw the Freedom Riders’ bus being viciously attacked less than a year before in two Alabama cities.

The play reminds us of how far we have come since 1962 in eliminating discrimination in our society. But in this year where our first African-American President stands for reelection, we are also reminded of how much still divides us. Maybe we can learn something from how Virgil Tibbs and Bill Gillespie face their common dilemma.


  • Noreen Purdy: Morgan Skye Hamilton
  • Sam Wood: Doug Graupman
  • Chief Gillespie: Brian Donohue
  • Pete Rollins: Mark Holt
  • Charles Tatum/Mayor Schubert/Klansman: Justin McCright
  • Endicott/Al Jennings/Klansman: Kurt Anderson
  • Coroner/Eric Kaufman/Klansman: Neil Twohig
  • Virgil Tibbs: Charles Whatley
  • Harvey Oberst/Klansman: Christian Huet
  • Melanie Tatum: Joanna Kenlon
  • Purdy/Ralph/Klansman: Jamie Todd Hamilton

Production Staff

  • Director: Charla Rowe
  • Assistant Director: Brian Donohue
  • Producer: Larry Carbaugh
  • Stage Managers: John Battersby, Tina McGuthry-Banks
  • Set Design: Charla Rowe
  • Costume Design: Jeanette Vaughan, Debbie Miceli
  • Hair and Makeup Design: Cast
  • Lighting Design: Sheryl Fry
  • Sound Design: Ron Rowe
  • Sound and Light Operators: Harmony Hall Staff
  • Fight Choreography: Alex Zavistovich
  • Set Construction: Mark Holt, George Roff, Jamie Todd Hamilton
  • Set Painting and Dressing: Mark Holt, Charla Rowe
  • Properties: Charla Rowe, Ron Rowe
  • Program/Publicity: Larry Carbaugh
  • Show Logo and poster: Valerie Holt
  • Technical Advisor: Jamie Todd Hamilton

Disclaimer: Tantallon Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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One Response »

  1. This was a great show and very well acted. I like the very basic set since most of the emphasis is on the characters and the drama. I wish they could perform this play at some of the local high schools.