by Shirley Lorraine
Classic Christie mystery intrigues
Santa Paula Theater Center closes out its 2018 season with a classic Agatha Christie drawing room murder mystery now through December 16. A lesser known work, the play version was an adaptation of an earlier novel of Christie’s own by the same name. Several key points were assigned new identities and adjustments made to the original setting.
The result is a charming, albeit wordy (quite common to the time and style), mystery featuring Christie’s trademark fascinating characters, all of whom harbor secrets. A murder is committed, everyone is a suspect, and the surprising truth ultimately comes to light.
Director Fred Helsel has assembled a seasoned cast which carries off each distinct characterization with aplomb and conviction. This is truly an ensemble piece wherein each character tantalizes the audience with snippets of information to be pondered and pieced together.
The setting is London, England, year 1948, at the home of Sir Henry and Lady Angkatell (Ronald Rezac and Peggy Stekete) who have invited several friends and relatives to enjoy a weekend in the country. Things begin to go awry as their son Edward (Trent Trachtenberg) clashes with guest John Cristow (Chip Albers) and his seemingly dim wife Gerda (Joy Goldowitz). Also present is cousin Henrietta Angkatell (Jordawn Howard), Cristow’s mistress and Midge Harvey (Morgan Bozarth), a family friend.
The house is maintained by long-time family butler Gudgeon (Doug Friedlander) and a new housemaid, Doris (Jadzia Winter). As one character so well states “The thing about murder is that it upsets the servants so”. After all, they must maintain the manor.
The plot thickens when actress Victoria Craye (Vivian Latham), a former mistress of Cristow, rents a house on the same lane. When Cristow is found shot, Inspector Colquhuon (Andy Brasted) and Detective Sergeant Penny (Eric McGowan) arrive to piece together the puzzle.
One should pay close attention to the subtle hints in the dialogue as the play progresses. As all the characters employ English accents and due to the quirks of the vocabulary of the era, this can be a challenging aspect for some. There are so many plot twists and turns it wouldn’t be out of line to make notes for reference at intermission.
The exquisite setting by Taylor Kasch, beautiful period costuming by Barbara Pedziwiatr and just the right touches of mood music attributed to Helsel and Allan Noel add to the overall charm of the piece.
The play is filled with underplayed humor. Only one character, that of Lady Angkatell (Peggy Stekete) seems purposely designed to trigger laughs, which she does easily. Sir Henry (Ronald Rezac), her long-suffering devoted husband, gently guides her to saner pastures when needed. Both are a delight. All the characterizations are definitively outstanding.
By today’s standard of fast-paced, non-stop action that quickly telegraphs details, the elaborate exposition in this play may seem a bit extended to some. However, it is a classic style well worth the journey. Settle back and enjoy the wordplay.
The Hollow continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through December 16. Adults are $24, seniors and students $22, children 12 and under $18. (805) 525-4645 or www.santapaulatheatercenter.org for ticket and seating information.