Theater Spotlight: A Murder Is Announced

Wendy Freshman plays the inimitable Miss Marple in "A Murder is Announced"
copyright Act One, Too, Ltd.

Reaching back to stage Leslie Darbon's 1977 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1950 murder mystery would seemingly require one of two factors to make a claim of relevance: either a rethink of its windy, dialogue-heavy text, or a staging that wrests intensity and depth from its machinations. Unfortunately, neither happens here. All the action takes place in a single British drawing room, where the house's owner Letitia (Meri Golden, combining matronly warmth with underlying steel) and her various tenants open up the local newspaper to discover a classified ad proclaiming that a murder will take place on the premises at six in the afternoon on that day (a Friday the 13th, in case you were hankering for an added level of implausibility). In a short first act, the various characters sit around and talk. And talk some more. Then, for variety, some stand and talk. There's feckless nephew Patrick (Dietrich Poppen), his sister Julia (Mimi Holland), Leticia's dotty sister Bunny (Muriel J. Bonertz), and paranoid fabulist maid Mitzi (Amy Shomshak, appearing at intervals and rather frantically trying to breathe life into things). The setup drags on, with a curious lack of life on display, until the lights go out, an intruder appears, and we have our first murder. Matters pick up, a bit, in the second act, with the arrival of Inspector Craddock (H. Wesley McClain), who indulges in self-pity over the nature of his job and evinces a general disdain for everyone present (it's hard to blame him). From here on out it's a matter of discerning the various characters' motives and opportunities for committing the killing (and another that follows it), but in general the performances lack the kind of distinction we need to wend through the thicket of false identities, scandalous secrets, and mixed motives that follows. Worse still is the show's format, with two intermissions and three acts that approach a three-hour running time. When the mastermind behind all the intrigue was finally revealed, I was disappointed to realize that I had long since ceased to care.

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