Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
A Murder is Announced
The news (garnered from the local rag) that a murder is to be committed the following day at 6:30 p.m. in that very house, and inviting all and sundry to come, is greeted with varying degrees of glee, interest, or doubt. Dora "Bunny" Bunner (Ceptembre Anthony-Tedesco), old school chum of Letitia Blacklock (Jessica Osbourne), the lady of the house, is actively both incredulous and dismayed. The others are all younger house guests. Long lost niece and nephew Julia and Patrick Simmons (played by Abby Van Gerpen and Jeff Dolecek, respectively) and "widowed" Phillipa Haymes (Rachel Foster) react with amusement or skepticism, Blacklock scoffing at the notion entirely.
Prior to the designated hour, neighbors, mother, and son Swettenham (Katie Ribeiro and William Berg) "just happen" to be passing and are welcomed to the "entertainment." On cue, the lights go out and there is a flash, a shot, and screams before the lights return, and we see on the floor the body of a dead man. Ta-Da! However, using a melodramatic scene ending as a theatrical device is not a wise decision for a production of this nature. It changes the atmosphere, making it into almost a parody of a murder mystery.
This climate continues when, soon after, we meet, portrayed almost as local yokels, Inspector Craddock (Chad Brummett) and his sidekick Sergeant Mellors (Marc Comstock). They, along with a decidedly non-twittery and unexpectedly vigorous Miss Marple (Samantha Blauwkamp), endeavor to solve the murder.
A lifelong fan of Agatha Christie, I was looking forward to this production, fully aware that A Murder is Announced is not one of Agatha Christie's more thrilling works. That said, opening night's performance at ALT was more disappointment than entertainment. Apathetic red herrings flop around. English accents flow in and out like Spring tides. Comic relief, in the form of Mitzi (Kathleen Reed), the "Mittle European" maid would be better in smaller doses–this could easily be a fault of the script, and in no way reflects the actor's abilities. Elderly ladies bedecked with wigs so similar in appearance I didn't know who was supposed to be whom.
Which brings me to the question–why in a town where the array and variety of genuinely elderly female actresses abound in astonishing numbers (one would have to make a deliberate and possibly herculean effort to avoid them), are the female characters in this performance cast with women too young for the roles they play? Bunny and Miss Marple, who is supposed to be a frail octogenarian replete with knitting needles, look to be the same age–and Osbourne's Blacklock, reigning supreme under a wig resembling a swirl of gray buttercream, looks far too young to be in the position she's in, even if she doesn't know all her lines.
As revelations of unwed mothers, dastardly impersonators, unruly guests, a variety of confessions, and exposure of secrets emanate from Miss Marple, the truth is revealed, and the mystery solved.
Adapted from the original by Leslie Darbon, and a play I haven't seen staged before, I have no way of knowing what is based on the actual script or solely a result of the director's interpretation. Many of the actors seemed listless, and this didn't help the sluggish pace of the overly long production.
The nuanced subtleties of the English class system can be difficult for non-English directors to recognize (the same is true of Irish plays), and much is lost if the director is unable appreciate the niceties of behaviors in those portrayed. But a cursory knowledge of one of Christie's most famous sleuths demonstrates Miss Marple to be a lady of impeccable manners, not inclined toward repartee, especially with members of Craddock and Mellors' social class. This results in an injustice to the players' talents.
The set, designed by guest scenic designer Jeff Thompson, is beautiful, with excellent attention to detail (prop design by Lando Ruiz). That it better suits a wing in Downton Abbey than it does a drawing room in the post-war village of Chipping Cleghorn was possibly lost on the opening night audience at ALT. Perhaps this is how an American audience views England during that period.
Costumes designed by Carolyn Hogan are, as always, well thought out and appropriate.
A Murder is Announced runs through April 3, 2022, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, and Saturdays, and at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets: $23 Adults, $21 Seniors 65+, $19 Students (13 - University), $15 Children (under 12). For tickets and information, please visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750, ext. 2. Also check the theatre's website for its COVID-19 polices.