The Unexpected Guest, a play by Agatha Christie, was performed over the past two weekends at 100 High St. in Enfield by The Valley Repertory Company. I was excited for this performance, having last seen the Company put on Broadway Cabaret back in July of 2011. Valley Rep. and director Lisa Eaton did not disappoint, as they performed this difficult play with an impressive talent that belies their humble settings.
Agatha Christie is the most widely-read author in the world, behind only the Bible and William Shakespeare. With so many fans, an acting company must work hard to make sure they do not disappoint.
Actors Summer Echelson and Wesley Olds carried the show as the respective leads, playing Laura Warwick (the unhappy wife of the murder victim) and Michael Starkwedder (the mysterious Unexpected Guest).
The play opens with Mr. Warwick already dead, and continues with the subsequent task of finding out who is the true murderer. It takes place over 24 hours and in a one-room setting. I must give the set designer and crew credit, because they really transformed the stage into a believable, wealthy British household.
The Unexpected Guest is such an interesting work because of the many questions it raises. For instance, what happens when a murder victim is disliked by everyone in his or her life? This is the case for Richard Warwick, a despicable person that is murdered and his entire household is a suspect. His disappointed mother (played by Suzanne Robertson in excellent costume) might have done it. His blackmailing assistant (played connivingly by Mark Vogel) had ample reason to see his employer dead. Julian Farrar, a member of British government (played smugly by Keith Giard), was dating the deceased’s wife And what about the unassuming Miss Bennett (performed by Sue Reese), who could be a bit too unassuming and may well have done the deed herself.
Of course, there was also the half brother of the murder victim, Jan, played brilliantly by Stephanie Maloney. Stephanie really steals the show in her portrayal of a mentally retarded brother who, despite his limited intelligence, somehow seems to know the most about what’s going on in the house. Jan, subject to the abuse of his brother for years, had as much motive as anyone. Logan Lopez and Bruce Showalter played the police in charge of solving the crime, and also provided the comic relief amidst all the tension of murder.
The director of the play, Lisa Eaton, was kind enough to grant me an interview. I asked her what was most difficult in putting on this play, and she said:
“What I found to be most challenging...is the lack of action that takes place on the stage. The show is all dialogue so, as a director, you have to try to find a way to keep the audience engaged with the characters. To give the show some movement without it looking forced.”
I must say that she succeeded in creating that movement. Lisa told me that the last show she directed was The Golden State in 2011, and that while she enjoys directing drama and mystery, she finds she enjoys comedy the most.
The Unexpected Guest is successful because it keeps people guessing, even after the performance is over. The Valley Repertory Company developed each character, keeping the audience engaged, and putting on a show that packed the house on High St. There are many people excited for what the Company will do next, and for actors and actresses, that is definitely half of the battle.