Professor Cassandra James (Murder Is Academic, 2004), adapting the Victorian warhorse East Lynne for the stage, discovers that the real melodrama is happening behind the scenes.
After giving birth to her daughter Grace, Cassandra bonds in the maternity ward with little Agnes’s mother Melissa Meadow, an actress married to actor Kevin Kingleigh. Melissa and Kevin, who are producing and starring in East Lynne, consult Cassandra for academic insights and eventually for a full-blown adaptation. Cassandra enjoys the departure from the classroom, but for Kevin the occasion is more than campy fun; it’s an opportunity for the faded actor to reemerge as a promising director. Someone else seems to be taking the production just as seriously. Melissa receives a vaguely sinister but very literary anonymous note, and a phantom appears in the theater, terrifying another actress. Jake, a filmmaker, and his cameraman Geoff, an avid reader of Friedrich Nietzsche, see the production as their shot at documentary fame and fortune, and Jake is eager to capture Melissa’s tension on film. Then days before opening night, Melissa disappears, and suddenly no one is what he or she seemed. Suspicion points first to Kevin and then, ominously, to Cassandra herself.
Poulson deftly keeps up the tension while manipulating the roles characters play on and off the stage: an academic cozy with attitude.