THE UNEXPECTED GUESTby Agatha Christie
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director – Rachael Lindley
Assistant Director – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Scenic Designer – Charles A. Alexander
Lighting Designer – Charles A. Alexander
Set Decorator – Rachael Lindley
Costume Designer – Rachael Lindley
Stage Manager – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Properties Master – Rachael Lindley and Leigh Wyatt Moore
Richard Warwick – Mark Moore
Laura Warwick – Laura Merchant
Michael Starkwedder – J.R. Bradford
Miss Bennett – Joan Leonard
Jan Warwick – Blake Bathman
Mrs. Warwick – Robyn Mead
Henry Angell – Doug Fowler
Sergeant Cadwallader – Richard Stephens, Jr.
Inspector Thomas – Rusty Harding
Julian Farrar – Joe Barr
Photo credit: Lise Alexander
Reviewed Performance: 4/11/2014
Reviewed by Scott W. Davis , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The story follows the Warwick family over a two day period. Richard Warwick, the king of the castle, is found shot in the study along with his wife who just happens to be holding the murder weapon. A passer by happens to stumble onto the murder site after wrecking his car nearby. As the night goes on the family tries to figure out what exactly to do in the situation. When the police are finally contacted, everyone from Mr. Warwick’s wife all the way to his son is a suspect.
Walking into the theatre space, the set immediately caught my eye. Set designer Charles A. Alexander designed a great set for this production. The walls were painted yellow with a chair rail around the room. Below the chair rail the wall becomes a plush burgundy which makes the room look like a very expensive and manly study. He implemented French doors that opened up into a garden and a hallway opening that enabled the actors multiple entrance areas. There was a black oriental- style couch and a desk with a chair. In between them were a couple of red chairs with a table. The set was well thought out for blocking flow. What really made the set pop though was the dressing provided by Rachael Lindley. The pictures as well as the little tchotchke around the set let you know that someone in the house was an avid hunter or had a fascination with Africa and its wildlife. Ms. Lindley kept you guessing through the play as to its time period with a radio from the 40’s, knick knacks from the 60’s and a phone on the desk from the 70’s. It made one more interesting thing to figure out.
Ms. Lindley didn’t just dress the set; she directed and costumed the play. Some of her directing choices were immediately apparent. The original script I read was set in South Wales where she set this production in the U.S., maybe a way to get a little more audience recognition within the play. As it went on you could see her detailed attention to blocking. During Act 2 there is an altercation between Miss Bennett and Jan that persists for a good couple of minutes, and was perfectly staged with constant movement throughout the entire scene, making it extremely fun to watch.
The costumes were another great choice, each one fitting each character’s personality, but the stand outs were Laura Warwick’s empire-line red dress with purple belt and the brown pin -triped suit on Julian Farrar made the look of an affluent and important family.
While Alexander’s set was great, his lighting was seriously inadequate. The night scenes were nice looking and the lighting in the garden looked great. But as the play went on you started noticing several unlit areas. The dead spots were unfortunately in key action areas - by the dead body, behind the red chair, by the desk – leaving actors left in the dark. After noticing these, it became aggravating to watch.
There were a lot of acting positives with this production. Laura Merchant takes on the leading female character, Laura Warwick, beautifully.
It’s an extremely demanding role, being onstage for the majority of the show, and Ms. Merchant did a great job with the amount of dialogue she had. While her character and Starkwedder go through the motions of her possibly being the killer, I loved Merchant’s ability to manipulate her facial expressions through the entire scene to make you think she was either in shock or mentally unstable. She also proved to be a veteran actress with her stage presence. No matter where she moved onstage, her stance was open to the audience which helped in always seeing what she was doing or feeling. She was a joy to watch.
Another solid performance was J.R. Bradford’s portrayal of Michael Starkwedder. While there were several areas where he excelled, like fantastic facial expression, character interaction with the other characters, and all around blocking techniques, the ability to find his light was the most important challenge to tackle. Most of Act 1 he was blocked in areas that lacked light. He maneuvered his blocking in such a way that he would only be in the dark for a second. Mr. Bradford had excellent stage presence; when deducing how Laura Warwick could have killed her father he floated around the stage, creating a sort of exciting Law and Order moment. The interaction between Laura Warwick and Starkwedder was so well done you almost start to notice sexual tension between the two characters.
Richard Stephens, Jr. and Rusty Harding play Sergeant Cadwallader and Inspector Thomas, the two police officers sent to solve the murder. Mr. Stephens put a Barney Fife persona to the sergeant while Mr. Harding played the inspector more of a regimented and straight-laced detective. This made for a great dynamic between the two characters as you really got drawn into their comedy when they were onstage. I couldn’t stop laughing when the phone rang, the sergeant ignores it, and the inspector just stares at him, priceless.
Miss Bennett, portrayed by Joan Leonard, is nanny to thirteen-year-old Jan Warwick, played by Blake Bathman. They have a tremendous amount of interaction together onstage, and there were several moments where I felt Mr. Bathman's character would lose focus but eventually he would pull it back together. This is really a big role for anyone that age, and Ms. Leonard helped tremendously in keeping Mr. Bathman on task, especially during their altercation in Act 2. Mr. Bathman brings so much energy to the role I found myself getting tired just watching him. His line delivery was extremely good considering the amount of lines Mr. Bathman had. Ms. Leonard’s ability to convey fear during the altercation was incredible to watch. Between the shaking, stutter steps, and facial expressions she sold the role.
The “other man”, Julian Farrar, is played by Joe Barr. The character is a politician and Mr. Barr plays that to the hilt. Even during some of the most intense scrutiny in the show he never breaks a sweat. While his technical performance was stellar, he played the character with a flamboyant persona that I just couldn’t see in that character. But in the end he pulled off a great character that’s extremely fun to watch.
Robyn Mead plays Mrs. Warwick, the mother to the deceased, and her casting caused some reality problems. First off, Mead wasn’t old enough to play Richard Warwick’s mother. Even with the added wig she didn’t have the look of a woman with a thirteen-year-old grandson. Unfortunately, one problem led to another. As she had to age herself by thirty years, her portrayal became very one-sided and bland. There was a lack of facial expressions during her performance which may have been an acting decision to try to make the character older but it just didn’t work. While she was on stage it was hard to see what she was doing. She was almost always facing upstage which kept her closed off to the audience.
In my mind the vilest character was Nurse Angell, portrayed by Doug Fowler. During the scene where Mr. Angell is trying to blackmail the politician Mr. Farrar, Mr. Fowler’s sneer literally had me so angry I was crumpling my program. Being able to get me to hate his character with just facial expressions is a testament to how good of an actor he was. But it wasn’t just his expression that I liked, his projection and diction was incredibly good. Not once did I have a problem hearing him.
All in all, the positives outweigh the negatives with The Unexpected Guest. Richardson Theatre Centre put together an extremely talented cast guaranteed to entertain you with this Agatha Christie classic.
Richardson Theatre Centre
518 W. Arapaho Road, Richardson, TX 75080
The production runs through April 27th (no performance Easter Sunday, April 20th)
Shows are Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $20.00 Thursday and Sunday, and $22.00 Friday-Saturday. Groups of eight or more receive a $2.00 discount.
For information and to order tickets, go to www.richardsontheatrecentre.net. Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 972-699-1130