TheatreWorks production of Agatha Christie play explores courtroom whodunit
There are few mystery writers as great as Dame Agatha Christie. Having penned more than 60 detective novels making sleuths such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple so famous that they’re known worldwide, it is not surprising that she was the recipient of many mystery writer awards. It is also not surprising that her plays “The Mousetrap” and “Then There Were None” are still popular today. Her play “Witness for the Prosecution” won an Edgar Award for Best Play. This is the play currently on the boards of TheatreWorks New Milford.
It is an outstanding production directed with impeccable timing and panoptic vision by Frank Arcaro of Roxbury who has positioned the defense attorney and the prosecutor right in the audience. He then has 12 audience members swear in as the jury. These 12 stay in their assigned seats throughout the theater, but this makes everyone in the house close to someone directly involved with the central action. It works like a charm.
As for the plot, Christie fans will delight in this classic whodunit. Leonard Vole, unemployed and down on his luck, has befriended Miss Emily French, a rich older woman. When she is suddenly murdered, Leonard becomes a suspect, especially since she left her entire estate to him. The only person who can provide an alibi for him is his wife, a German actress named Romaine.
There are other characters to consider as suspects. Certainly Janet MacKenzie, the longtime housekeeper and companion to Miss French. She was to inherit the estate until Leonard came around. However, Christie has created such a wonderful character in Leonard and Daniel Basiletti steps into the role with such casual down-to-earth charm that he immediately endears himself to the audience.
So too, Litchfield’s Jonathan Jacobson, who plays the defense counsel Sir Wilfrid Robarts, is the epitome of a class act. In his powdered wig and long black robe, Jacobson exemplifies the English gentry with every word he speaks and every facial gesture. He is perfectly cast in this sophisticated role. He immediately wins the trust of the audience.
This is unlike the role of prosecutor Mr. Myers, Q. C. played convincingly by Timothy Huber. Huber takes the role of Robarts archrival and continually tries to one up the counsel. This actor earns the respect of the audience, even though his character is not well liked. That takes a lot of doing and Huber does it masterfully. Add to this fine-tuned cast Jonathan Ross of Thomaston who personifies the esteemed judge with a touch of humor and a lot of know-how. When he puts down the prosecutor with stunning references to the law, we see the judge has earned his position. Ross is a consummate actor, comfortable in costume and role.
The one and only woman who has Leonard’s life in her hands is Romaine, played by Thursday Savage with a fiery spark that sets her into the domain of accomplished actor. She speaks as definitively with her eyes as she does with her multiple accents. Her tough woman performance repeatedly stuns the audience.
Other in the cast contributing to the success of the show are: Carl Agostino of Waterbury, Gale Alexander along with Dee Dee Ball Calvey, Evelyn DeRobertis, Kirk Dulaney, Terri Gatten and Katie Seppa - all of New Milford. Suzy DeYoung and Bryan McSweeney of Newtown, Rob Pawlikowski and Roger Netzer of Roxbury and Maureen Sheehan of Woodbury as well as Peter Philip and Eric Gatten.
The only negative in this production is that the 12 jurors who are sworn in from the audience are never instructed to rise when the judge enters, nor do they actually have any decision-making for the final outcome, which could have been arranged easily enough. Essentially the 12 jurors ended up being ignored.
Leif Smith created the courtroom scene and lighting design as authentically as beautifully rendered to set the action in the 1950s London Old Bailey. Alyse Lamb accented the actors with costumes appropriate for stereotypical characters. Overall, this is a production that should not be missed. For mystery and Christie fans it’s an absolute must see.