Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of The Butterfingers Angel...
The play's been running continuously in the West End of London for over 60 years, and it's easy to see why: at intermission, it seemed impossible to guess the identity of the mysterious killer suddenly lurking in the English countryside. That said, I actually did solve the puzzle in the final 30 minutesbut it only made me feel terribly smart, for a changeusually I find Christie to be unfair to her audience, or at least strangely elliptical with her clues.
Here, if anything, there are almost too many clues to keep track of. And, judging by the audience chatter afterward, a lot of people were taken by surprise. But I'd say you do stand a chance of figuring it out.
Director Paul Mason Barnes brings Agatha Christie thoroughly to life, giving us a real sense that we're being toyed with directly, and even relentlessly, by the great poisoner and shooter and stabber herself. And then he puts his actors through a horrendous emotional wringer, in a sometimes horrific set of those now-familiar, impossible-to-duplicate Christie character confessionals.
It's easy to see why this script has aged so wellcharacters who seem to be one thing one moment may be something else entirely just a moment later. And, peopled with a probable lesbian and at least one probable gay man (taken more or less in-stride now, by the other characters), and bristling with all sorts of other frictions from scene to scene, it's probably just as fresh as it was on opening night in 1952.
Of course, the nice thing for Sean Mellott (as the post-war, proto-homosexual) is that he can now be a wild, breathless oddball for a hundred other reasons, besides his sexuality, 60 years after the premier. And, in his own endearing, exciting, painful and even annoying little way, he finds just about all one hundred of those reasons, as the little man called Christopher Wren. Is his antic disposition just a red herring, or something more?
Larry Paulsen is pervy in a whole different way as another guest, snowed-in in this strange, gargantuan old house, which has just been turned into a private hotel. As Mr. Paravicini, he seems to love mysteries more than anybody, so any time he comes on stage it's almost as if the playwright's mind has exploded right in front of us.
Ellen Adair, as the newly minted innkeeper, and William Connell as her husband, are adorable till the strain starts getting to themanybody would have their hands full with Mr. Wren and Mr. Paravicini, but of course it's a full house on top of that.
Darrie Lawrence and Michael James Reed are imposing as two older visitors. One is comically magnificent, but with a cold hard edge. And the other looks like he can't wait to regale you with stories of the war. Tarah Flanagan is smart and very down-to-earth as a young woman who doesn't like to answer a lot of painful questions. But, in spite of them all, Christian Pedersen is surprisingly resourceful as the fresh-faced policeman, sent out on skis to ask "what's all this then," and a whole lot more.
All the potential suspects show a powerful range of human grief and grievance, as each pairs off with another, time and again, for genuinely haunting little scenes about disappointment and neglect and anguish and, well, just trying to forget. Think of it as Ibsen with a lot of humor. And a vengeance.
And then it finally struck me, near the end, that the whole mystery genre must exist largely just to help us deal with the truly awful things that happen in life, all the time, all around us. And that it gives us hope: that we might solve a lot of those problems ourselves, just by listening closely, and watching out for every little detail. Before it's too late.
Through December 29, 2013, at the Browning Mainstage in the Loretto-Hilton theatre building, 130 Edgar Rd (just south of Big Bend Blvd.). For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in order of appearance)