REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘Night of January 16th’ Delivers Courtroom Drama and a Surprise Ending

Avon Players welcomed eager theatergoers back for the opening night of Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th, running now until Saturday, October 9, 2021, in Rochester, MI.

This moment is important because it marks the first live production since the shutdown in March 2020 when Lend Me a Tenor had to abruptly ends its run. And it is also a season of celebration as Avon Players commemorates 75 years of bringing creative and crowd-pleasing theatre to the area. Before the start of the show, Avon Players VP of Communications, Patrick Daniels received a plaque from Ruthann Liagre, a board member from the Community Theatre Association of Michigan, acknowledging the theatre’s milestone. After the presentation, it was time for the show and while I am familiar with the Russian-American author Ayn Rand (“Atlas Shrugged”), I had never heard of this play before. It was quite delightful waiting for the performance to begin and not knowing exactly what to expect.

Set in 1930s New York, Night of January 16th takes place entirely inside a courtroom. There are no scene changes, just the actors on stage the entire time. The play centers around the trial of Karen Andre, played by Hosanna Phillips in her Avon Players debut. Andre is accused of killing her boss and married lover business executive Bjorn Faulkner, who is never seen. Because of the setting and topic, I immediately thought of the musical Chicago, which is also about an attractive woman on trial for murdering her lover. It turns out, Rand’s idea to have Night of January 16th centered around a trial was inspired by a 1927 melodrama titled The Trial of Mary Dugan, about a showgirl on trial for, you guessed it, killing her wealthy lover.

Did she do it? Defense Attorney Stevens (Aaron Barnes) counsels his client Karen Andre (Hosanna Phillips) in
‘Night of January 16th.’
Photo credit: Avon Players Facebook

Phillips portrays Andre as defiant and poised and sells it from the moment she first takes the stage. This is a woman who knows her worth and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. And while this approach works for her, it doesn’t endear her to others. Particularly, Faulkner’s bereaved widow, Nancy Lee Faulkner, played by Tara Makar in her Avon Players debut. These two women in Faulkner’s life couldn’t be more different. On the outside, both women are beautiful but come from vastly different backgrounds. Andre has worked for everything she’s earned, while Faulkner’s rich daddy John Graham Whitfield (Joe Munem) has afforded her the luxury of being able to throw money around to get her way. Faulkner is also the visual opposite of Andre. She is a high society blonde who arrives at the courtroom in spectacular fashion wearing a fur cape and a diamond brooch. Her actions are animated and her expressions pouty and pinched. It was great fun to watch both Phillips and Makar really inhabit their respective characters and bring them to life with such flair.

Two more actors making their Avon Players debut are Aaron Barnes as Defense Attorney Stevens and Scott Welborn as District Attorney Flint. These are both pivotal roles and each man does an excellent job arguing their respective positions. Rounding out the fresh faces are Luigi Murri as the Bailiff/Clerk and Rachelle Rodriguez as the Stenographer.

Bereaved widow or jealous wife? Nancy Lee Faulkner (Tara Makar) tells her side of the story in ‘Night of January 16th.’
Photo credit: Avon Players Facebook

This courtroom drama starts as a slow burn and keeps building. In fact, I found myself intensely looking for small clues – anything that might suggest something, or someone wasn’t what they appeared to be. And just when you think you know which way the story is headed – bam! You’re hit with plot twists that set your mind down a path of exploring other possible outcomes. Judge Heath (David Reynolds) fights to keep order amidst the outbursts and procession of witnesses with varying perspectives and agendas such as Homer Van Fleet/Siegurd Jungquist, played by Jonathan Farrell, Elmer Sweeney/James Chandler, played by Patrick Jordan, and Dr. Kirkland, played by Deidre Ward-Beck. And even though this is a drama, there are pockets of humor hidden throughout and they largely come courtesy of the loyal housekeeper Magda Svenson, played by Ann Sweet in her Avon Players debut, and gangster “Guts” Regan, played by Richard G. Marcil (Deathtrap). These moments of levity really help balance out the overall serious tone of the play. But perhaps the true star of this play is the jury.

The jury is comprised of 12 men and women… from the audience. At some point before the show, 12 audience members are selected and then sworn in during the performance to act as the jury. This adds another unique element to what is already playing out on stage. The actors never fully break the fourth wall, but their dialogue and movements make you feel as if they are speaking directly to the jurors. When it’s time for the jury to deliberate, the jurors got up from their seats and cast their vote. The foreperson even delivered the verdict. Because Night of January 16th chooses not to directly depict the events leading up to Faulkner’s death, it is up to the jury to rely solely on character testimony to decide Andre’s fate. The play’s ending depends entirely on the verdict. Rand’s intention was to dramatize a conflict between individualism and conformity, with the jury’s verdict revealing which viewpoint they preferred. At this performance, Andre was found ‘not guilty.’

So, if you’re a fan of old school courtroom dramas such as “Perry Mason” or simply enjoy being surprised, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket for ‘the gallery.” Who knows? You may be the person selected to help decide the fate of Ms. Andre.

The performance runs over two hours with a 15-minute intermission. While no proof of vaccination must be shown to enter, the audience is required to wear a mask during the entire performance.

Tickets for all shows are $21. All seats are reserved. Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. Please consult the website for the most current COVID-19 precautions before your visit. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. 

Check out one of these remaining performances:

Sunday, Sept 26           2:00 p.m.

Friday, Oct 1                 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Oct 2             8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Oct 3               2:00 p.m.

Friday, Oct 8                 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Oct 9             8:00 p.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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