Review by Beatrice Williams-Rude
A night shrouded in pea-soup fog in a remote Cornwall location near the sea. What a perfect setting for a murder mystery and it forms the core of Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest.” Theater-goers would do well to curl up in their seats, relax and enjoy.
While there is no Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, this is quintessential Agatha Christie. There are no loose ends, every piece gets put in its proper place, every clue examined and addressed.
“The Unexpected Guest” opens with a man knocking on the door and shouting, trying to gain entry into a house. It seems he’d gotten lost in the fog and driven his car into a ditch. He wants to use the telephone in this, the only house visible.
He pushes the door open and when there is sufficient light sees a corpse and a woman holding a gun. An open and shut case of murder? Not to the stranger, Michael Starkwedder. He keeps asking for details as the resigned woman says if he’s calling the police he should get on with it. She not only admits her guilt, she repeats it when the stranger expresses doubts.
He proceeds to attempt to help the woman: because she’s attractive? Or is there some other reason? He concocts a story and in the process becomes an accessory after the fact, which he acknowledges.
Soon the other members of the household converge on the crime scene, which is in the murdered man’s study.
It quickly emerges that the murdered man was not universally loved, in fact he was largely loathed. Thus there is no shortage of suspects. As is frequently the case with Agatha Christie, the victim earned his fate. (One may ponder whether the writer had the urge to murder her own husband, her first husband. It would seem she had cause.)
This is a thoroughly satisfying play and I’ll not spoil it for potential patrons by revealing any more of the plot.
The cast is competent. Although there is a focus on performers with disabilities, the disabilities do not detract from the plot, but in several cases actually enhance it.
Nicholas Viselli creates a complex, layered character in Michael Starkwedder, the unexpected guest. Pamela Sabaugh is a most appealing Laura Warwick, widow of the victim. Christopher Imbrosciano is splendid as the victim’s simpleton half-brother. Melanie Boland, as the victim’s mother, gives an artful performance as does David Rosar Stearns in portraying the devious Henry Angell. Scott Barton conveys the less than honorable would-be Parliamentarian with subtlety. Lawrence Merritt is an impressive Inspector Ian Thomas, Anthony Michael Lopez is a delight as Sergeant Cadwallader and Ann Marie Morelli is admirable as Miss Bennett.
The effective set and lighting is by Bert Scott, a major feat, given the small stage.
While the play was well directed by Victoria Rauch-Lichterman, there is a problem: many lines are lost to one section of the audience or another. The actors, engaged with one another on stage, as well they should, don’t always project so the whole house hears them.
(On a personal note: my life has been bracketed by “The Unexpected Guest.” I first saw it midway through its original London run on my honeymoon with Bob, my first husband. I saw it again on the eve of my 17th wedding anniversary, with Alan. Yes, I like this play.)
“The Unexpected Guest,” presented by TBTB (Theater Breaking Through Barriers) is at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) where it will run through May 10. Running time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Photos: Carol Rosegg