Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Theater review: Richardson Theatre Center presents well-performed Witness for the Prosecution
The charming community theater handles a famous Agatha Christie who-dunnit with ease.
RICHARDSON Richardson Theatre Centre offers up an intriguing evening of an Agatha Christie murder mystery that will entertain even the most “die” hard mystery fans.
"The Witness for the Prosecution" is a famous short story and play by Agatha Christie. The story was initially published as “Traitor Hands” in Flynn's Weekly edition in January 1925. In 1933, the story was published for the first time in the collection The Hound of Death that appeared only in the United Kingdom. The American audience had to wait until 1948 when it was included in the collection The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories.
Leonard Vole is arrested for the murder of a wealthy older widow, named Emily French. Since Mrs. French made him her principal heir, not aware that he was a married man, things look bad for Leonard's defense. But the final blow comes when his wife, Romaine, agrees to testify, not in Leonard's defense, but as a witness for the prosecution. The entire play revolves around a complicated and elaborate plan, Romaine works through that drives all the twists and turns revealing a unique plot twist at the end.
The original story ended abruptly with a major twist (that I won’t reveal). Over time, Agatha Christie grew dissatisfied with this ending and in her subsequent rewriting of the story as a play, added another character, which appears late in the story. The play was also made into a 1957 film, starring Charles Laughton as Wilfred and Marlene Dietrich as Romaine (whose name is changed to "Christine")
Richardson Theatre Centre is a quaint community theatre with a lot of charm. You feel very welcomed by the staff and they are very proud of their organization. This was my first visit to the theatre and was very impressed by the pride they, and the patrons, seemed to take in the company. The stage is primarily a black box layout with seating in a semi-circle type arrangement around the play space.
Designer Charles A. Alexander presents a fixed, nicely laid out set, both detailed and constructed well. Representing a courtroom with the Judge’s box perched high, witness boxes and boxes for both the prosecution and defense. This is a three act play that takes place primarily in the courtroom but also in the office of the defense lawyers. The office is played downstage with a desk, coffee table and a few chairs. The layout works very well for the space and the scene changes went smoothly when not at an intermission break. The overall production design is very well executed and accented the story very well.
Also, Mr. Alexander’s lighting design is basic yet successful. All the scenes are generally lit in white, with the area of the lawyers office separated from the courtroom. The actors in every scene were very visible, including entrances made from house aisles so you never miss a moment of expression on an actor’s face.
Direction by Rachael Lindley is very well done in this production. She allows the authors words to tell the story without having the actors telling it constantly moving around. This choice made for some very nice moments between her actors and fully involved you in the story itself. When it came to blocking the more action filled scenes in the courtroom, her choices were also very well made. One aspect I really enjoyed was making the patrons in the theatre the “Jury” hearing the case in the story. The lawyers presented their case to us in a way that never felt like a violation of the “fourth wall” and was executed perfectly. This really worked as at every intermission I overheard people actually mulling over the facts in the case presented to them as if they actually were the jury and not watching a play live on stage!
Ms. Lindley Costume Design was also very well planned out and executed. This is a period piece, set in Savannah Georgia in 1949 and she hit the mark on all costumes for that period. The color palette was perfectly chosen for the men, primarily in muted colors, however, added just the right color to any character that demanded it. For example, the prosecutor’s suit was tailored and light, while one of the women’s costumes was brash and over the top … exactly what the script called for!
The actors in the production presented their respective characters very well. Some seemed a bit less experienced in timing and line delivery, while others were wonderfully driven and right on point in presentation. All of them together, however, as a strong, cohesive ensemble drove the story forward with clarity and a desire to pay homage to the script.
Cobey Cathey as Leonard, the character on trial, gives a well-rounded and thought through performance. He offers a wonderfully simple, yet not dumb, portrayal of a man consistently professing his innocence. When the script calls for dramatic changes in emotion, he does them well without going too far. Mr. Cathey’s character arc is drastic in this play and he handle’s it with ease and perfect purpose. You believe the young man on trial is pleading for his life every moment you’re supposed to.
Wilfrid Robarts played by Rusty Harding as the lead defense lawyer delivers a very strong performance throughout. He has a lot to contend with in plot lines and twists and delivers them deftly without hesitation. He is confident on stage and has obviously given a lot of thought to his character building as it shows every moment during the production. When needed he commands the stage, yet knows exactly when to pull back to allow the focus to shift to another important character.
Charles A. Alexander as Mayhew the secondary lawyer for the defense creates a wonderful, well-rounded characterization of the part. He is confident, secure on stage and drives each of his scenes forward with a direct approach. Mr. Alexander also chooses his decisions as an actor well and you are always attentive to him while he tells the story.
The prosecutor, Myers, played by Andrew Dillon is expertly done. He commands the stage as an actor and as his character would as a lawyer for the state. He has some wonderful facial reactions and his line deliveries are timed perfectly. Mr. Dillon is a very strong performer and every moment he is on stage you follow him and hang on his every word.
David Lambert as the Judge, is simply charming and exciting to watch perform. He has some wonderfully comedic moments in the show, either with lines or reactions to others that caused out loud laughter in the audience. He presents himself astutely as the Judge in the story, yet allows for some whimsical retreats in character that just make you smile and enjoy him in the role. Every moment he is on stage you are entertained and brought into the story lines even more.
Leigh Wyatt Moore as Romaine, the wife, is entertaining in her role, but seems a bit unsure of her character’s motivation in the story. She presents herself in the role well, sporting a difficult accent, yet tends to pull back in confidence in some pivotal scenes. The overall storylines and interactions with others are not affected negatively, yet I just felt as if she’d let go and believe in her character choices, she’d have been even more powerful in the performance.
The rest of this wonderful ensemble company each in their own right do very well as actors and in their respective roles. However, a stand out performance by Elaine Erback in her role as Thomas Ann Clegg will simply entertain you and adds some great levity to the script with her wonderful characterization. Every actor held his or her own in this show and all deliver entertaining performances.
Whether you’re an Agatha Christie fan, a “who-dunnit” fan or even none of the above, you’ll definitely enjoy this well presented community theatre production of Witness For The Prosecution at Richardson Theatre Centre.
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