Zachary Burrell, Rita Thomas, & Elizabeth Loos in A Murder is Announced. Photo courtesy Derby Dinner.
A Murder is Announced
By Leslie Darbon, Adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
The butler did it! It was Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Candlestick. I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.
There is no question that mysteries and sleuthing are a huge part of our society’s collective entertainment and perhaps even hobby. There are scads of authors who have excelled in this genre, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps one of the most heralded of these is Agatha Christie.
I am going to be completely honest with you; I know a scant amount of Ms. Christie’s work, which includes Hercule Poirot and Murder on the Orient Express and the Ms. Marple series of mysteries. Thanks to PBS, I was introduced to Ms. Christie and her style of writing. Now, while I don’t fancy reading a lot of mystery novels, I have found myself at least watching one of Ms. Christie’s stories come to life either on the stage or in film from time to time.
Such is the case for A Murder is Announced, which is the fifth book of the Ms. Marple series.
In a small town of Chipping Cleghorn in England, in the home of Ms. Blacklock (Elizabeth Loos), a resident of the house, Bunny (Debbie King-Raque) notices an advertisement in the Gazette stating that there will be a murder at that residence on October 13th at 6:30 pm. The other residents, including Ms. Blacklock’s family, Patrick (Zachary Burrell) and Julia (Janet Essenpries), look at each other in disbelief that anyone would murder, much less, advertise about doing so. Perhaps it is a gag or a game?
Soon neighbors and townspeople descend on the converted house, perhaps out of concern, but more so, out of curiosity. Included among those who come by are Mrs. Swettenham (Dana Adams) and her son Edmund (Brian Bowman), a fledgling author. Another neighbor, the vicar’s sister, Miss Marple (Rita Thomas), stops by to give Bunny some flowers and to question the validity of the advertisement.
As everyone gathers in the parlor, including boarder Phillipa Haymes (Michelle Bradley) and chambermaid Mitzi (Tina Jo Wallace), the clock strikes 6:30, the lights go out and a strange shadowed figure walks into the room. With a flash of light and the crackle of gunfire the ensemble scrambles about before the lights come back on in the room and there lies a man, Rudi Scherz (Timm Charleton), killed, on the landing.
All are aghast of the event and are even more confused when Inspector Craddock (David Myers) comes to interrogate everyone. One by one each person within the house is asked questions about their business with Mr. Scherz and/or with Ms. Blacklock. As the Inspector seems to not be getting as far with his tactics, he enlists the help of Miss Marple, who is ready, willing, and able to assist.
In true Agatha Christie fashion, just when you think that you have it all figured out and you know who the assailant is, there’s a twist and then another and then another. Was this the only murder? Is Rudi an innocent victim? Who exactly are these people who have descended upon the home commonly referred to as “Little Breakers”?
I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy seeing the core actors of Derby Dinner Playhouse working together in many plays and musicals as they have a sense of how each other will react and play out certain scenes and moments, but I really enjoy those times that the moment seems to have been improvised and the cast reacts in delightful ways. I thought that Zachary Burrell’s reaction to the Inspector asking Mitzi to stand and her refusal for doing so was honest and well played.
But, here’s the catch. Sometimes the script just gets in the way and the cast and crew do the best that they can with it. Within the script there are many holes that do not get filled and the audience gets to fill in those holes however they see fit. There is one glaring question that never gets answered, but I will let you, dear theater patron, to figure that out for yourself.
So, with that said, the cast and crew were fun and entertaining, to say the least. They collectively kept the pace going. They could be comical one moment then as sly as a fox the next. Also, for the most part, the British accents were fairly good in the beginning of the show, even though they waned quite a bit as the play progressed.
While the characters of the Swettenhams seem to not be very well developed, Ms. Adams and Mr. Bowman made the best of their time on stage. Mr. Charleton, nice job as well.
Another underdeveloped character was Ms. Bradley’s Phillipa. While essential to the scope of the mystery, her character needed some depth. Ms. Essenpries’ Julia was well seasoned and suspect, as was Zachary Burrell’s Patrick, who added a bit more challenge to the “could he have been guilty” question.
David Myers’ Inspector Craddock was fine, but I would have liked to have seen him channeling other great mystery sleuths such as Sherlock or even Poirot. Tina Jo Wallace’s Mitzi was tenacious and bold and everything that I would guess from a paranoid Eastern Block woman, including the thick accent.
Ms. King-Raque, you play ditzy so well. Your Bunny was funny and pointed and gave all of us pause to think out certain things that you said. Elizabeth Loos’ Ms. Blacklock was a cunning minx. I wasn’t sure if Rita Thomas was playing the role of Miss Marple, or playing herself as she went about it with natural acuity.
Andrew Duff’s lighting and Ron Riall’s design fit well for the stage and ambiance of the events, as did David Nelson’s sound design. Lee Buckholz’s scenic design did give the feel of a turn of the century parlor and Sharon Harrah’s costumes harkened back to that era as well.
Ms. Schneider thank you once again for bringing a great group of actors and crew together to give us a mystery to chew on…. much like your Death by Chocolate Cake.
A Murder is Announced
October 4 – November 12, 2017
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.