APPOINTMENT WITH DEATHby Agatha Christie
Garland Civic Theatre
Directed by Kyle McClaran
Set Design – Kyle McClaran
Lighting Design – Catherine M. Luster
Costume Design – Marshall Shugart
Property Design – Drusilla Blakey
Sound Design – Kyle McClaran
Stage Manager – Marshall Shugart
Mrs. Boynton – Marilyn Twyman
Ginevra Boynton – Trisha Romo
Nadine Boynton – Jennifer White
Lennox Boynton – Jeremiah Johnson
Dr. Theodore Gerrard – Josh Hensley
Hotel Clerk/Dragoman – Nathan Amir
Alderman Higgs – John C. Hogwood
Lady Westholme – Britney Spindle
Miss Amabel Pryce – Brandy Nuttall
Dr. Sarah King – Lucy Shea
Jefferson Cope – Dan Burkarth
Raymond Boynton – Christopher Dean
Colonel Carberry – Nathan Amir
Reviewed Performance: 9/13/2014
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Appointment with Death is a 1945 play based on Christie’s 1938 novel. The play opened at Kings Theatre on January 29, 1945 and then in the West End on March 31, 1945. The play was not received well by the critics, yet the box office receipts were slightly better. However, it still closed on May 5 after just 42 performances.
As I entered the auditorium, I noticed Director Kyle McClaran’s elaborate set design. The play’s location is within King Solomon’s Hotel in Jerusalem. With a mixture of Asian and Middle Eastern art, along with discord of decorations, the design was hard to place in Jerusalem and to the high class that the hotel catered to. There were multiple levels with stairs, a bridge, a raised platform, and a sitting area in which the cast moved seamlessly through as the play progressed. Yet the set was so overfilled it was distracting to the performance.
Costumes by Marshall Shugart were well thought out and added to the depth of the characters. Lady Westhome, a politician, was dressed to the nines in hats and sequined dresses to show her power. This intensified with each costume change as she became statelier through the story. Ginevra Boynton, the youngest daughter, was dressed in a simple black skirt and white button-down shirt, covered with a black shawl. In contrast, her brothers, Raymond and Lennox Boynton, were appropriately dressed in slacks and sports jackets to illustrate the wealth the family had. The hotel clerk, dressed in an Arabic shalwar Kameez with a Kufi cap, was my favorite costume as it was the only indication where the play took place. As the story moved to evening scenes, each character dressed in formal wear. The men were in tux with tails and the ladies in formal gowns.
Lighting Design by Catherine M. Luster helped set the tone of the play. Appointment with Death is a suspenseful murder mystery and Luster enhanced this with careful use of dim lighting and spotlights in the various areas so that they cast shadows in others. Luster used a back cyc glowing in red or green to decipher when something suspenseful was going to happen or not – much like a stop sign.
McClaran also tackled sound design which left much to the imagination. The music was to help transition between scenes, but his use of suspenseful music was out of place and more appropriate to a horror movie rather than a stage production.
Marilyn Twyman opened the play as Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch of the family. Twyman’s steely eyes and piercing stares were perfectly matched with her stern voice to accomplish Mrs. Boynton’s personality. Accentuated with her pounding cane and voice inflections, her motherly role was never in question. Twyman never faltered out of character and easily moved between Mrs. Boynton’s dueling personalities, and her performance strengthened as the play progressed.
Ginevra Boynton, the youngest of the three children and plagued with a disorder, was played by Trisha Romo. Romo captured playing someone with a disability perfectly and her quick, darting movements, wide eyes and rushed speech enhanced the dynamics of the Boynton family. Romo’s body language, though, didn’t always match her lines which led to some confusion.
Jennifer White portrayed Nadine Boynton, the daughter-in-law. White used slight smiles and underhanded glances to solidify Nadine’s struggle. White’s voice held little to no inflection in which to allow the audience to hear and not just see her character’s emotions. White’s performance was lacking in energy and she fell into the background in many of her scenes, which was a miss since her character is supposed to be a strong woman.
Lennox Boynton, Nadines husband and oldest son, was played by Jeremiah Johnson. While a supporting character, Johnson nicely depicted the shell of a man that is Lennox. His downward cast eyes and slumped shoulders showed the emotional burden Lennox carried. Johnson’s nervous energy and frightened tone as Lennox was questioned by Colonel Carberry, added to the mystery of the play.
Christopher Dean played Raymond Boynton, the youngest son. Dean was picture perfect for his role. His posture, sulky attitude, nervous twitches and wringing of hands emphasized Raymond’s broken spirit. When Dr. King was around, Raymond was a stronger character, which Dean portrayed through bright eyes but with quivering voice which showed the dichotomy of his role. Dean never dropped character and shouldered the unrest of Raymond through his body language and voice inflections.
Dr. Theodore Gerard, the French doctor portrayed by Josh Hensley, was formal and stilted, and Hensley depicted him exactly as his character should be with thick French accent and a slight but precise nod of his head. Talking with his hands showed Gerard’s interest and excitement in detective work. Through wide eyes and open mouth, the doctor’s shock was realistic as he realized his own role in the murder plot. However, Hensley seemed too practiced for the role and his characterization was at times unnatural.
Lucy Shea portrayed Dr. Sarah King and was a natural on stage. Shea’s straight posture and head held high denoted a professional woman of merit. Dr. King had many encounters with the Boynton family and Shea’s range of emotion through her vocal quality, from breathy and light to strong and stilted, her red-face and wide-eyed, stern expressions accentuated King’s role as the doctor moved between her profession, a love interest, and standing up to Mrs. Boynton.
Lady Westholme, played by Britney Spindle, was a former English politician and still holds rank as a force to be reckoned with. Spindle’s sing-song voice and domineering stance showed Westhome’s conflicting power struggle. Looking down her nose and tsking added to the holier than though attitude of Westhome. Spindle’s accent at times seemed forced, as was her over-the-top sparring with Higgs.
John C. Hogwood played Alderman Higgs, a fellow guest, who was in a constant state of verbal sparring with Lady Westholme. Higgs is one of the comedic reliefs of the show and a fellow Englishman. Hogwood displayed Higgs’ cocky character with hands on hips, wide gestures and exasperated attitude. However, Higgs is a brief character in the play and Hogwood was unable to bring him to life beyond the script’s comedic one-liners.
Miss Amabel Price, Lady Wethome’s traveling companion, was played by Brandy Nuttall. She was the quintessential prim and proper English woman and Nuttal displayed this perfectly with her quiet demeanor and confidence, radiant by strong voice and sweet smile.
Dan Burkarth played Jefferson Cope, a doctor who was in love with Nadine Boynton. Burkarth’s nervous laughter and unsteady movements showed Cope’s unease in how to show his love for Nadine. With a slight stutter and constant fidgeting with jacket buttons, Burkarth amplified his encounters on stage.
Nathan Amir played multiple roles as Hotel Clerk, Dragoman and Colonel Carberry. In each of these Amir deftly changed demeanor and energy to portray these characters. His hotel clerk was slouched shoulders and a “yes sir” humble. Dragoman, the tour guide, was the complete opposite with high energy and light voice. Amir nailed the constant pleasing behavior of a dragoman and how they try hard to gain good favor with their company so as to get better tips. As Colonel Carberry, Amir nicely transformed once again to a steely-eyed detective ready to solve a murder. Through his deep commanding tone and pointed movements, his actions set him as a man of power.
Appointment with Death was well handled by the cast and led to suspenseful moments as the audience became privy as to who the killer was. Though the talkative script dragged at points, Garland Civic Theatre’s production had strong actors able to push past that to finish with not only a fun murder mystery but a lesson in how family and friends are needed in times of difficulty.
Garland Civic Theatre
The Patty Granville Arts Center
300 N. Fifth St. Garland, TX
Runs through October 4th
Performances are Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Additional performances are Thursday, September 11th and 18th, at 7:30 pm.