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Agatha Christie mystery on stage at Coach House Theatre

1/30/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

‘Spider’s Web’ features ‘excellent cast’

From left, Karen Wood, Kyra Kelley, Timothy Champion, Derrick Winger and Mark Stoffer share a scene in Coach House Theatre’s “Spider’s Web.”
Photo courtesy of Coach House Theatre
WEST AKRON — Life doesn’t get much better than watching an Agatha Christie murder mystery on a cold winter night.

“Spider’s Web,” one of Christie’s more obscure mysteries, is now playing at Coach House Theatre through Feb. 16. However, this should be one of her best known plays. She combines one murder, one attempted murder and plenty of laughs into a full evening’s entertainment.

Clarissa Hailsham-Brown (Kyra Kelley) is the beautiful young wife of the more mature Henry Hailsham-Brown (Henry Bishop). Clarissa has done an excellent job of being stepmother to Henry’s daughter, Pippa Hailsham-Brown (Snezana Jelic). The family has leased a country estate, which comes with servants and a gardener, Mildred Peake (Karen Wood).

Clarissa is surrounded by her godfather, Sir Rowland Delahaye (Timothy Champion), and his friends, Hugh Birch (Mark Stoffer) and Jeremy Warrender (Derrick Winger). 

Their idyllic life is disturbed by Oliver Costello (Dane Lee), the new husband of Henry’s ex-wife. The ex-wife wants custody of Pippa.

The exposition and the introduction of these characters take the story to the end of the first act. But, Christie follows her usual formula — before the curtain falls at the end of the first act, a murder must be committed and the body discovered on stage. 

In the second act, the characters spend a good deal of time attempting to hide the body. The longer these proper Englishmen and women plot how and where to hide the body, the funnier the plot becomes.

In truth, every household needs a gardener like Mildred Peake. Wood takes this character and moves her way over the top. Wood makes the presentation and discussion of one stalk of broccoli truly funny business. She has an innate sense of humor and has the ability to express that fun to the back row.

In addition to Christie’s humorous lines and situation, director Andrew Cruse staged the performance to bring the funny situations to the top. He and his cast don’t mind being clowns, and for that we should be grateful.

The cast is excellent. Champion, Stoffer and Winger often play their scenes as the three stooges or the Marx brothers would play the scenes. They are fun to watch, and it’s interesting to hear what they do with Christie’s lines.

Kelley seldom leaves the stage. She has a gigantic role and plays the humor and the mystery as if this was her life.

Jelic inhabits the role of Pippa. She is 14 years old and an excellent actress who keeps up with her older and more experienced colleagues. I look forward to seeing her in another play and watching her grow as an actress.

Lee makes the attorney and new husband appropriately villainous. Lee usually plays the good guy. It’s good to see him stretch his abilities and play a bad guy. 

In the second act, Police Inspector Lord (Richard Worswick) takes command of the stage and questions each suspect (and everyone is a suspect). Christie wrote this role as a parody of her style and her many police inspectors. Lord bumbles his way through the investigation, without finding a killer in the house and grounds. Worswick plays this character with appropriate confusion. Worswick continues to be one of the best actors in this area.

Even if the weather outside is frightful, give yourself a break and enjoy one of Christie’s rarely produced mysteries.

For reservations, call 330-434-7741.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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