by Agatha Christie
Garland Civic Theatre
Artistic Director: Kyle McClaran
Director: Kyle McClaran
Set Design: Kyle McClaran
Costume Design: Kyle McClaran
Light Design: Donna Covington
Carpenter: Jeffrey Ramsey
Stage Manager: Jeffrey Ramsey
Properties: Jeffrey Ramsey
Sound Design: Kyle McClaran
Sound Board Operator: Anthony Willis
Program: Celeste Rogers
Web Master: Perry Brown
Publicity: Celeste Rogers
Professor Karl Hendryck: Gregory Phillips
Anya Hendryck/Lady Rollander: Amanda Brown
Lisa Koletzky: Evelyn Davis
Helen Rollander: Arielle Engle
Dr. Stoner: Robin Attaway
Lester Cole/Police Sergeant Pearce: Blake Hollowell
Mrs. Roper/Detective Inspector Ogden: Robyne Gulledge
Reviewed Performance 4/22/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Agatha Christie is most familiar to audiences for her thrillers and detective fiction, such as Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and The Mousetrap. With Verdict, however, Dame Agatha gave us a melodrama instead. While the audience actually sees the murder as it happens on stage, most of the characters are as well-developed and distinctive as her Hercule Poirot (Murder on the Orient Express) and Miss Jane Marple (4.50 from Paddington).
Set in England in 1946, Verdict is the story of Professor Karl Hendryck and his family who are forced from their home in another European country (thought widely to be Germany, but my research was inconclusive on this detail) and left to settle in Bloomsbury. Professor Hendryck lives with his invalid wife, Anya, who suffers from a degenerative condition, as well as his wife's cousin, Lisa Koletzky, an educated scientist who has taken leave from her career to care for Anya.
Professor Hendryck is devoted to his wife, but her years of illness have taken a toll on their family. While their feelings for each other are obvious, Professor Hendryck and Lisa maintain a painful, but respectful, distance from each other in honor of their beloved Anya. Enter Helen Rollander, a spoiled, sassy, beautiful English student who talks Professor Kendryck into tutoring her privately in exchange for her mother's influence with regard to a breakthrough medication that might help Anya's condition. Suffice it to say that Helen's motives are purely selfish ? she wants to learn only slightly less than she wants to help Anya get well.
While everyone at some point in their life has likely had a crush on a teacher, Helen Rollander takes it to the next level. Even though Professor Hendryck has given Helen no reason to feel as she does, Helen desperately believes she and Karl are in love, and that they could be happy together if only Anya were out of the picture. To that end, Helen overdoses Anya's medication one afternoon, resulting in Anya's death. Helen admits her crime to Professor Hendryck, but Karl's reticence to contact the police after this revelation leads to Lisa's arrest and inquisition. The true meat of the story lies in the aftermath of Helen's admission, so I won't spoil the ending.
As Director, Set, Costume and Sound Designer, Kyle McClaran's unique stamp was all over this production. Each time I see a play at GCT, I'm convinced Mr. McClaran can't possibly squeeze more vignettes onto his stage, but he surprised me once again with at least five seating areas, including a sun porch. Bookshelves, a lovely desk, a chaise lounge, a couch, an Oriental rug?all were present and accounted for, and all of the pieces blended beautifully to characterize not only the slightly cluttered home of a professor, but also a warm, inviting space that felt, well, homey.
The costumes represented the period fairly well, though I have a few quibbles, including the orange (not auburn, not ginger, not red ? orange) wig worn by Professor Kendryck (Gregory Phillips). While we are led to feel the pull and sway this character has over the people in his life, we see it from the perspective of his unassuming manner, his intelligence, and his endearing, caring nature ? not from the perspective of his physical appearance.
I understood that distinction quite well, but the wig made Mr. Phillips feel a little more like The Nutty Professor than a respected European scholar. Similarly, the uniform - and moustache - worn by Blake Hollowell during his turn as Police Sergeant Pearce bent more toward Benny Hill than Scotland Yard. The gowns worn by the characters of Anya and Helen late in Act 2, however, must be applauded, as they were beautiful (I don't want to give away any surprises, but you'll know what I'm talking about after you see the show).
Mr. McClaran and Lighting Designer Donna Covington paired sound and light flawlessly to signify the time of day, as well as to set the darker points of the plot. Sound Board Operator Anthony Willis was an integral part of this effort, especially during the scenes where Professor Kendryck steps over to his antique record player to spin the Rachmaninov piece that Karl and Lisa hold as "theirs." The cues for the starting and stopping of the record were spot-on each time ? well done, Mr. Willis.
Three of the actors played dual roles in this production, and all three were hit and miss for me. As Lester Cole, Mr. Hollowell was charming and gregarious as one of Professor Kendryck's prized pupils (he also held one of the stronger British accents), but as Police Sergeant Pearce he seemed a bit gawky and unnatural. I'm going to blame that solely on The Moustache, which thankfully had very little stage time.
Conversely, Robyne Gulledge's secondary character, Detective Inspector Ogden, was played more honestly than her Mrs. Roper, the Hendryck's cigarette-stealing, tea-buying nuisance of a housekeeper. The half Cockney, half East Texas accent Ms. Gulledge presented as Mrs. Roper felt like fingernails on a chalkboard, whereas her presentation as the Detective was straightforward and dominant. Luckily, the audience isn't really supposed to cotton to Mrs. Roper.
Amanda Brown's portrayal of Lady Rollander, Helen's wealthy aristocratic mother, was a little over the top for me, especially during the lines when Lady Rollander screams at Professor Kendryck in order to seal the deal for Helen's private tutoring. This decision to scream when the line didn't really call for it might've been a director's note, but it seemed incongruous with Lady Rollander's seductive air.
On the other hand, Ms. Brown's portrayal of Anya, Professor Kendryck's
depressive invalid wife, was inspired. Anya is confined to a wheelchair during her scenes, so Ms. Brown didn't have the benefit of true blocking to personalize her character further. Instead, she brought Anya to life from a sitting position, and she did so with grace and restraint that still established for the audience Anya's physical and emotional pain. She wore no stage makeup other than foundation, and her costumes were completely befitting those of a dying woman.
Robin Attaway, as Dr. Stoner, Anya's personal physician, was solid and upbeat, and she didn't waiver in her desire to see Anya whole again. She also managed a consistent British accent. Arielle Engle as Helen Rollander, the blonde bombshell who alters the course of everyone's future by killing Anya, ate up the stage during her scenes.
While she physically embodied every wife's curvaceous nightmare, I didn't always believe her emotive choices. She was consistent in these choices, however, which at minimum helped to move the plot along. One tiny note for future shows: Ms. Engle was constantly pulling and tugging and repositioning her costumes (especially the black and white polka dot dress she wore during Helen's most important scene), which was slightly distracting.
The role of Lisa Koletsky was played with genuine goodness by Evelyn Davis. Ms. Davis spent much of her time on stage watching the action of others, but she stayed in character at all times. As a character, Lisa is stoic and self-contained, and Ms. Davis managed these representations without coming off has hard or witchy. Lisa keeps her feelings for Professor Kendryck far enough under the surface to still care for her cousin Anya, and Ms. Davis walked this emotional tightrope with ease. Ms. Davis finally got to fully unbutton Lisa Koletsky in Act 2, and the outpouring of feeling was well worth the wait.
Gregory Phillips, as Professor Karl Hendryck, shouldered the burden of his character's many quirks and peccadilloes with polish and grace. Mr. Phillips was called upon to exhibit nearly every color of the emotional rainbow in this production, and he did so with pinpoint accuracy.
Interestingly, Mr. Phillips even managed to differentiate a feeling as fundamental as "love." During his scenes with Ms. Brown as Anya, Mr. Phillips was tender and caring, and it was obvious his feelings for Anya were those built on a lifetime of adoring his wife. Alternately, his scenes with Ms. Davis as Lisa were more passionate and nearly visceral, clearly marking their love as something newer, but nonetheless powerful. His orange locks notwithstanding, Mr. Phillips made very nice choices for this character.
While I wasn't astounded by the story, I was engaged and even surprised at times by the plot's twists. The set alone was almost worth the price of admission, and several of the performances were way above par for community theater.
VERDICT By Agatha Christie
Garland Civic Theatre at the Patty Granville Arts Center
300 N. 5th Street, Garland, TX 75040
Through May 14th
Thursday at 7:30pm (04/21 and 04/28)
Friday and Saturdaygat 8:00pm
Saturday at 2:30pm (05/14); Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm
Tickets are $20, or $16 for groups of 10 or more