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A Murder Is Announced - Review

by Lorraine Lucciola

Don’t you just love a pre-holiday treat? Maybe your neighbor decides to make her gingerbread cookies before Thanksgiving and makes you the designated taster. Or, maybe you are determined to kick some life into your world-renowned sweet potato pie and serve the experiment for supper this week. (FYI: There are now marshmallows the size of toad stools to melt on the top. Be warned, however, that if you don’t keep an eye on them in the oven, they will take over an otherwise clean appliance like fire extinguisher foam.)

But, more to the artistic point, is Your Theatre Inc.’s latest treat, "A Murder is Announced" by Agatha Christie (adapted by Leslie Darbon), directed by Robin Richard. An exceptionally talented, intuitive cast of twelve personally embraces their places in this clever mystery, projecting their individual eccentric characters, while diligently working off each other as one of the tightest stage ensemble entities to grace their performing space. It’s a thing of beauty.

Nothing --- and no one --- is as it seems at first blush. It’s the delicious exploration of character and the sweet sprinkling of hints, as delicate as icing on a cake (watch those cakes, folks!), that lay the groundwork for a spectacular denouement and the unveiling of family schemes, strategies and financial goals. This somewhat non-garden variety outpouring of Christie scripts (there are survivors at the end) unfolds beautifully in Mark Fuller’s authentic, inviting English sitting room set design.

Susan Wing Markson as the sometimes agitated, sometimes forgetful Miss Dora Bunner (Bunny) is priceless. She confided that the majority of her important stage roles have revolved around portraying crazy old women. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Wing Markson is her own person/actor no matter what role is assigned and, yes, she happens to do wacky very well. Understand, this is no easy task. Yet, her version of a not-so-crazy oldster, but a life-worn sibling, under the care and control of sister, Miss Letitia Blacklock, is authentic and winning every step of the way.

Being on stage with Cheryl Day (the duplicitous Letitia) has to be a Your Theatre actor’s dream. Day is remarkably natural, generous on stage with fellow/female actors and able to produce her own, characteristic style and brand of comedy at the drop of a dime. It’s a look, a line reading, a pause, a hand gesture. There’s none better.

Let’s talk about Mitzi, beautifully played by Allison Dukes. What a breath of fresh air! Mitzi is the maid/cook/greeter and general pain in the arse at Letitia’s Victorian home, Chipping Cleghorn, England. (Don’t you just want to laugh out loud at the name? Christie must have wanted us to!) Comic characters, for the most part, are never just that. They present in a way that lets us like them, while they usually harbor a deeper moral compass. Dukes nails it in this show.

Elena Murphy is Julia, Letitia’s niece. She’s British snooty and entitled, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for this character. Joining Julia in her stay with Aunt Letitia is her brother, Patrick, played by the versatile, intuitive Daniel Gabriel Sallom. This actor can be comfortable being outright silly, intellectual, stuck up, running around in various stages of undress, playing dumb, playing wounded, playing smart, all the while, playing brilliantly. Give him a role and he captures it.

Michele DeMary, longtime Your Theatre actor, is a joy to watch. She maintains Mrs. Clara Swettenham’s haughty society manners in a totally joyful, playful way, never failing to successfully interact with others. For some reason, we feel better when she’s onstage!

Ian Vincent plays Clara’s son, Edmund, with superb seriousness and anti-social reactions that can be sparked with little provocation. Vincent is master at portraying these kinds of unsettled, secretive personalities with complete credibility.

Edmund is "sweet" on lovely Phillipa Haymes, played with warmth and beguiling friendliness (and eventual truth) by Stephanie LeBlanc. This professional has worked hard and consistently both on stage and off ever since she landed at Your Theatre several years ago. She’s had major roles, minor roles, directing experience. And, as an actor in this particular show, she shows amazing growth and ease.

If someone locked you in the theater and told you for the next two hours, you were going to see everything John Softcheck, just turn off your phone, get comfortable and get ready for one of the most entertaining (and educational) theatrical experiences, ever. This guy is just unbelievable --- because he is believable. In this show, he is the British "Columbo" counterpart, Inspector Craddock. Softcheck is so down to the core of any character he plays, that you have to wonder if the playwright honestly believed that he/she had captured the essence of the male character they invented. Softcheck always brings something more; something sublime.

When she’s right, she’s right. None other than Lucy Bly could bring life to the feisty Miss Marple in this script. We’ve seen Bly as queens, empresses, evil aunts, a crochety aging Mainer --- hundreds of challenging roles of anyone wrapped in anything life could imagine or produce and she does it with conviction and grace. She is never over or under the top. She is exactly where she and her character need to be in perfect measure.

Gil Cardona-Erazo doubles as this production’s stage manager and also as a shady character called Rudi Scherz. Let’s just say his gig as stage manager lasts longer than his character. Nick LeBlanc, who plays “heavies” and enforcers with great animation, is Sgt. Mellors in this production.

The production crew includes Lawrence R. Houbre, Jr., Technical Director, Lighting Design; William C. Smith, Sound Design; Mark P. Fuller, Set and Costume Design; Suzanne J. Houbre, Hair and Makeup.