Story: Leonard Vole is an amiable enough chap, but he always seems to be looking for work. So, it appears to be his good fortune when he inherits the estate of an older woman, Emily French, whom he had befriended after a mishap befell Emily on a London street.
Vole claims to be unaware of the inheritance. After all, he tells Scotland Yard that his regular visits to Emily were strictly of a hospitable nature, since he already is married to a foreign woman named Romaine. Nevertheless, when French is found murdered, Vole is charged with her killing by Inspector Hearne.
Taking on Vole’s defense is noted attorney Sir Wilfrid Robarts, assisted by Vole’s solicitor Mr. Mayhew. Robarts is a legendary name at London’s famous ‘Old Bailey’ court in the year 1953, noted for his keen understanding of the law as well as human nature. Sir Wilfrid and Mayhew agree that the genial if impoverished Vole is innocent of such a ghastly offense and are pleased to represent him.
But who is Emily’s killer? Is it her loyal maid Janet Mackenzie, who was her original heir apparent until Emily changed her will after she met Leonard? Is it Voles’ mysterious wife Romaine, who seems less than enraptured with her husband? Is it Leonard himself? Or is it someone more obscure, perhaps the burglar who apparently invaded Emily’s home the night of her killing?
In other word, whodunit?
Highlights: Kirkwood Theatre Guild brings back a reliable chestnut from famed writer Agatha Christie with this leisurely, old-fashioned yarn that is peppered with several appealing performances.
Other Info: Christie, who has sold more books than anyone except William Shakespeare and The Bible, wrote this effort originally in 1925, first as a short story and then as a play. She changed the ending three decades later to make it more appealing to her own individual tastes. Billy Wilder directed a film noir version a few years later.
Director Dani Mann has an apparent deep and abiding respect for Christie, to the ultimate detriment of this production. Its three acts and two intermissions creep along at a pace that initially is charming but eventually proves plodding and tedious, coming in at just under three hours.
Mann does elicit a number of well-delivered performances that enhance the effort and offset mediocrity in some minor roles. Chief among these is Will Shaw’s properly mannered performance as the erudite barrister Sir Wilfrid. Shaw’s delivery is precise and carefully shaped in the manner of a stereotypical upper-class Brit. He plays well off of David Hawley’s earnest if unimpressive Mr. Mayhew, who serves primarily to agree with Sir Wilfrid.
Jeffrey Wright is a delight as Leonard, sporting a right fine British accent and appearing every bit the proper chap who might befriend most anyone, sharing a pint and a jolly good laugh along the way. In contrast, Heather Sartin deliciously mines the role of the devious and mysterious Romaine, guardedly selecting her words and carrying her posture in secretive mannerisms to keep Leonard’s attorneys guessing about her true motives.
Ken Lopinot entertainingly chews up the scenery as the veteran prosecuting attorney Mr. Myers, rolling his eyes and reacting in exasperated fashion to any surprises that come his way in the courtroom. Scene-stealing Julie Healey extracts every ounce of humor and indignation in the role of Emily’s starchy maid, Janet Mackenzie, throwing in a right fine Irish accent to boot.
Annalise Webb is entertaining as Robarts’ vacuous secretary Greta, while Tim Callahan has a number of amusing moments as the long-suffering Justice Wainwright. Richard Hunsaker does well as the overly careful coroner Dr. Wyatt and Jason Klefisch finds the humor in the testimony of the nervous Mr. Clegg.
The cast also includes Robert O. Stevenson as Carter, Steve Garrett as Inspector Hearne, Rahul Mehta as the court clerk and Kevin Arnold, James Twickler, NoreenAnn Rhodes, Anna Werner, Kris Mohler, Jim Wamser, Frank Lewis, Mike Bisch in the ensemble, with Sally Sinclair as the “Young Woman.”
Merrick Mohler’s scenic design works both as a law office and, when turned around and enhanced, as a courtroom to accommodate the drama’s four scenes, enhanced by Judy Lewis’ properties design and Susan Wolff’s set decoration. Sarah Porter does double duty, sharply dressing the players in her period costumes and also refining make-up and hair. Lighting is by Nathan Schroederm with Amanda Jackson adding sound design.
At the Sunday matinee, there were seemingly half a dozen times when someone’s mobile phone rang in the theater. Obviously, the request before-hand to silence cell phones was ignored by too many people, aggravating the audience and probably annoying the cast as well.
If the players can memorize three hours’ worth of dialogue, it’s to be hoped that audience members can heed a simple request to turn off beeping devices. That hope springs eternal.
Play: Witness for the Prosecution
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theater, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: $20; contact 821-9956 or firstname.lastname@example.org