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December 09, 2016
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arts & leisure

Agatha Christie’s “A Murder is Announced” stumps the audience at The Forestburgh Playhouse

Contributed photo

Spoiler alert: The butler did it. Calm down… just kidding! It would be unkind to give away the ending of the murder mystery now playing at the Forestburgh Playhouse, and since it’s a whodunit as only Agatha Christie can write, even the best amateur sleuth will have a hard time unraveling the labyrinth of clues doled out during this two-act frothy English confection that is presented with the style and verve that Christie deserves. Penned by the author of 66 crime novels, Christie’s “Murder” might be one of her lesser known works, which is in our favor, and the story was unknown to me, which kept me guessing along with the packed house in Forestburgh the other night as the curtain went up on the first offering of the season at the playhouse.

Christie holds the Guinness World Record for being the best-selling novelist of all time, and her play “Mousetrap” still stands as the longest running play. Ever. Little wonder then, that her plays are performed all over the world and that her fan base continues to grow with each new generation. Whether one is an ardent fan or new to the genre, this production is sure to please… with a more-than-able cast of colorful characters. Under the deft guidance of director Trent Blanton, the company of actors hits the stage running with great pacing and fully realized characterization, making each role stand out, while supporting the others throughout. While truly an ensemble piece, this quick-witted puzzler has some stand-out performances, and virtually none that disappoint. Marissa Girgus, (Julia) Aaron Miller (Patrick) and Ellen Pavloff (Bunny) really get the ball running with their well-drawn interpretations of the extended family of matriarch Leticia Blacklock, played with humorous, mysterious intensity by the extremely talented Sandy York, who captured my attention from her first line and held me firmly in her grasp until the curtain fell. Assisted by the comic genius of the hilarious Rebecca Simon, (Mitzi) York literally holds court over the rest of the cast, all of whom were at the top of their game. Chiara Trentalange, Sandy Stalter, Tommy Betz, Hunter Brown and Kyle Kemph supported York and company with panache, while I breathlessly waited for one of Christie’s most beloved characters to make her way onto the stage—Miss Marple. Portrayed by a myriad of famous actresses over the years, Miss Marple is a lot to live up to and actress Carolann Page won me over instantly with her own brand of quirky, lovable, faux-befuddled antics that have made the character so popular over the years.

Familiar enough with Agatha Christie, I knew to keep a sharp eye on Marple, in order to help me dissect the clues, which are all there for the keen observer to note, yet I was befuddled myself while watching Inspector Craddock (Chris Van Cleave) interrogate the suspects. Van Cleave seemed to be channeling Sean Connery as he commanded the stage, and as usual- the inspector eventually has to rely on Miss Marple and her prowess at getting to the truth. The pair was amusing and entertaining, like everyone else on the stage, which was enhanced by particularly nice scenic and lighting design by Ashleigh Poteat and Mark Stater, respectively. With so many characters careening around the attractive set, it’s important to note that the staging itself was never static, never boring, and all of the actors moved with purpose and alacrity as the plot moved along, keeping me interested and determined to figure out who actually done it, which never occurred. As the audience buzzed about their suspicions, I joined in the conversation and realized that this piece is truly what “interactive” theatre should be, since we were all engaged in trying to solve the crime before the final curtain fell. Delighted to have been deceived all along, I left the Forestburgh Playhouse excited about the next offering—“My Fair Lady,” opening next week. There’s still time to test your detective skills, so put on your thinking cap and catch the entertaining “A Murder is Announced” before Eliza Doolittle comes to town.

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