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Just in time for Halloween Season, The Morningside Players mounted a delightful production of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, “The Unexpected Guest.” Audience members enjoyed a “whodunnit” with an excellent cast under the always-impeccable direction of Susanna Frazer. 

 

It’s a foggy night in South Wales. As the lights come up, we see a man (Michael Starkwedder, played by Brandon Schraml) knocking on a door, shouting about having run his car into a ditch, and entering a house, only to find a woman holding a gun standing over a dead body. The woman, Laura Warrick (Tess Frazer) quickly confesses to the murder—the victim is her husband, the cruel, wheelchair-bound Richard Warrick. But has Laura really committed the murder? Other members of the house awaken, and the plot thickens… In true Agatha Christie fashion, as the members of the house are introduced to the audience, each one becomes a plausible murder suspect. By the play’s end however, this Agatha Christie murder mystery takes a Hitchcockian turn (thanks to Susanna for pointing this out to me) that insures most audience members will not have guessed who the murderer is until all has been revealed.

   

Marcus Willard designed a beautiful set for this production with the assistance of Mike Mahaney. Sound and Light Producer, Patrick Mahaney used fog and lights to great effect, as well as noises to evoke action off-stage, and an eerie, evocative soundtrack—which swelled at just the right moments—to create an elegant, suspenseful atmosphere. Most of the play takes place in Richard Warrick’s study, a well-appointed, colonialist man cave that celebrates his predatory pleasures; the tribal masks, the mounted stag’s head, the photo of his rhino kill, all make the point. 

 

Tess Frazer was terrific as Laura Warrick in a demanding role that required her to be on stage for most of the play. She conveyed shock that slowly becomes the nervousness of someone with secrets to hide. Brandon Schraml created a complex, layered character in Michael Starkwedder, the unexpected guest, transforming almost imperceptibly from mensch-with-a-crush on Laura Warrick into a far more unexpected character over the course of the play. Sam Krivda gave an artful performance as Jan, Warwick’s simple half-brother, an easily manipulated and misguided boy who is constantly used by his family. As the regal family matriarch, Mrs. Warrick, MarieLouise Guinier was a wonderfully commanding presence, holding the stage with ease. Kelly Taylor was a real pleasure as the capable housekeeper Miss Bennett who turns out to have a talent for coercion and handling guns. Playing Laura Warwick’s lover Julian Farrar, Steve Bauder was pleasingly believable as the good guy who turns out to be a slithery careerist, willing to throw their relationship under the bus for a chance at a seat in Parliament. Waiting in the wings to blackmail him, Spencer Aste stole the show with his comic turn as the craven underling valet Henry Angell. In a delightful subplot, Chris Chirdon plays the humane but bumbling Sergeant Cadwallader who forever exasperates Len Rella’s authoritative, buttoned-up detective, Inspector Thomas. Kudos to costume designer Bridget Leicester for creating wear befitting all the characters, especially the elegant costumes appropriate to a family of a certain stature in the 1950s. Laura Warrick’s lovely dress was a standout. 

 

With strong performances from the whole cast, “The Unexpected Guest” was a great night of theater at Morningside Gardens. (The show ran from October 19-29, with extra shows added on November 4 and 5.)
 

The Morningside Players’ “The Unexpected Guest” Held Over Extra Nights After a Run of Sold-Out Shows

by  Elizabeth Wiesen

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