Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Love from a Stranger
Clague Playhouse
Review by Mark Horning


Jill Kenderes and Jarred Nichols
Photo by Studio South Photography
Murder is afoot at Clague Playhouse and it is more than the foul deed done on stage. The real crime is with the group of local actors murdering the English language while trying to sound British. There needs to be a law in this country that states "From henceforth until the end of time only specified actors who have been extensively trained and licensed in United Kingdom linguistics will be allowed to mimic a British accent. In short, those unable to do so should voice their part in their normal speaking voice."

For anyone who has traveled to London, normal British citizens do not talk any way like some American actors portray them. Theirs is a "vehy clipted" dialog that is quite distinctive yet easy to understand. Instead, we are forced to attend local theater productions where the best we can hope for is a mush mouth mumbling that makes the words hard to comprehend.

Case in point is the Clague Playhouse production of Love from a Stranger by Frank Vosper (based on a story by Agatha Christie) and directed by Douglas Farren.

The play is set in 1930s Bayswater, England, as Aunt Lou Lou (Marcia Mandell) is helping her niece Mavis Wilson (Monica Zach) and Mavis' friend Cecily Harrington (Jill Kenderes) ready the girls' flat for let. It seems that the two young ladies have hit it big in the Sweepstakes to the tune of £100,000 each. Mavis has decided to go on an extended holiday and Cecily has decided to break off her five-year engagement to Nigel Lawrence (Ryan Christopher Mayer) who is arriving today after two years in Sudan.

Enter worldly Bruce Lovell (Jarred Nichols), who at first wishes to rent the flat but instead sweeps Cecily off her feet and off to a remote cottage on the English coast as his new wife. The only contact the newlyweds have with the outside world is Hodgson (Raymond E. Cosma, Jr.) the caretaker, his niece Ethel (Tania Benites), who is hired as their day cook, housekeeper and maid, and Dr. Gribble (Neil Donnelly) the village doctor.

We soon learn that Bruce is not what he claims. He is in fact a man who travels the world searching for wealthy but lonely women whom he marries then murders for their fortune. Clues of Bruce's diabolical plan are sprinkled throughout the play leading up to the surprising and dramatic conclusion.

As for the set, it is quite remarkable what this small community theater's six person crew has accomplished. Act one shows a well-appointed flat that is quite workable for the actors to negotiate. During the fifteen minute intermission it is transformed into a modest cottage that is very believable. Costuming is spot on for the time period. However, the only things more distracting than the British accents are the wigs that the women wear. They seem to overshoot the mark for 1930s style and taste.

Apart from the accent problems, the acting is really quite good. Marcia Mandell as Aunt Lou Lou needs to get the comic timing down just a bit more and lose the accent entirely. It is on her shoulders that the job of comic relief falls and she needs to play the part broader for laughs. Monica Zach is competent as Cecily's friend Mavis Wilson and gives a believable and satisfactory performance.

As Cecily Harrington, Jill Kenderes does a wonderful job transforming from giddy blushing bride to potential victim but needs to have her voice become more gravelly toward the end. Ryan Christopher Mayer as the put-upon Nigel Lawrence looks and acts the part of the spurned fiancé who proves to be a good sport about it—after all, he is British.

Raymond E. Cosma, Jr. as Hodgson could master the brogue a bit more and play it for laughs, but he manages a good portrayal of the resident gardener. Tania Benites as Ethel could use a wee bit more fidgeting to emphasize her newness to the various house positions but can be credited for using plainer speech in her performance. The one actor who plays it straight is Neil Connelly as Dr. Gribble. There is nary a hint of accent much to his credit. The real star of the show is of course Jarred Nichols as Bruce Lovell. His undercurrent of murderous intent is kept just under the surface with an occasional ripple that hints of his evil. Well played!

All of the actors need to concentrate on speeding up their delivery. The show could be trimmed down to less than two hours to be more effective.

The play runs just around two and a half hours with a fifteen minute intermission and is for family theatregoing.

If you can get past the bad accents and wigs, this production is rather well done. The suspense is slowly built up and the surprise ending is quite satisfying. It is classic Agatha Christie and needs to be seen. Clague productions nearly always sell out, so buy your tickets quickly.

Love from a Stranger will be at the Clague Playhouse through February 12, 2017, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, call 440-331-0403 or visit clagueplayhouse.org


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