Theater Info for Maryland

Colonial Players The Unexpected Guest

By • Sep 21st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie
Colonial Players
Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, MD
Through October 8th
2:40, with one intermission
$20/$15 Seniors, Students
Reviewed September 16th, 2011

The Unexpected Guest, first produced in 1958, is classic Agatha Christie. Richard Atha-Nicholls and Colonial Players have put together a top-notch production with tight performances from an exceptionally talented cast of eight.

Dame Agatha Christie is widely acknowledged as the reigning queen of the Murder Mystery genre in virtually every possible medium from novel to stage. Her characters are always multi-level, sophisticated (even when they’re low-born) and intriguing. The Mousetrap, Christie’s 1952 masterpiece, is just shy of sixty years in continuous production at London’s West End. She is second to none except possibly Shakespeare in popularity. Her stories are famous for twist endings, complex plots and red herrings and The Unexpected Guest is no exception.

Colonial Players’ production captures the essence of Christie’s wit and intrigue splendidly. From the opening moments to the final surprising twist, this show has it all. And it all starts on a foggy night on the south coast of England. Michael Starkwedder (Jeff Mocho), a traveling business man, has had an accident near the remote home of Richard and Laura Warwick. In the hopes of finding assistance, he enters the home, where he finds Warwick (John Sheeler) dead, and Warwick’s wife, Laura (Shirley Panek), holding a gun that supposedly killed him. It’s not long before we meet the other residents of the Warwick household: Warwick’s mother (Elizabeth McWilliams), his simple half-brother Jan (Ethan Goldberg), the butler, Angell (Michael Rogers), and the housekeeper, Miss Bennett (Jean Berard). These residents are soon joined by a family friend and aspiring politician Julian Ferrar (John Sheeler again). It becomes clear quite quickly that any one of these characters possess ample motives for committing the crime, and it’s up to Inspector Thomas (Mark T. Allen) and Sergeant Cadwallader (Justin Truesdale) to work out the puzzle.

Ah, but this is Agatha Christie and nothing is what it seems. That’s part of the fun! And what fun it is, too. The Unexpected Guest has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the very end, even for a confirmed AC fan.

Richard Atha-Nicholls has been gifted with a talented cast of eight and there isn’t a weak performance in the bunch. Special kudos go to Scheeler for transforming from corpse (for the first half hour!) to smooth-talking representative of the Liberal party with higher political aspirations, to Truesdale for nearly stealing the show several times as the overly enthusiastic note-taking junior officer on the scene, to Berard for her slightly too-tightly wrapped portrayal of the housekeeper, to Goldberg for a properly sinister simpleton, to Panek for carrying off a terrifically played transition from one sort of victim to another and especially to Mocho, the unexpected guest with a gift for inspiring trust in everyone he meets. Bravo to everyone for their work with BettyAnn Leeseberg-Lange, Dialect Coach, for making it a pleasure to watch this very English production. As has usually been my experience, attention to detail is everything. Doug Dawson’s set boasts lovely decor, with assistance from Tom Ammon and Debby Dawson. Michael M. Harris’ lighting design sets the right mood. Ben Cornwell’s sound design (with fog horns and quietly passing cars in the distance) gives a proper and realistic background. Linda Swann’s costumes are fitting and proper and Jeannie Beall’s props are just right.

I have to agree with Atha-Nicholls’ directorial decision to keep the cast in the dark about just who done it. The character building experience shows. Well done, all!

It is nearly impossible to write about the story without giving away spoilers and that’s the last thing this production deserves, so please trust me when I say you should make time in your busy schedule to see the show. The Unexpected Guest kicks-off Colonial Players’ 63rd season with a bang!

NOTE: This production includes fog (which stuck around for a while after its initial appearance), cigarette smoking and a gun shot.

Director’s Notes

Do you trust me?

That all depends on how well you know me. For those that do, I hope that you would, though I know there are some who don’t. That trust is based upon our historical knowledge of each other. But if I was a complete stranger would you trust me? Why would you, you don’t know me? Yet I’m sure if you think hard enough you can recall at least one action that required you to trust a complete stranger. For example, handing over the keys of your new car to the parking valet. Our choice to trust a stranger is based on our past experiences.

We trust Agatha Christie to give us a story with twists and turns and red herrings that keep us guessing, or at least unsure, until the very end. When you came to the show tonight, you trusted the actors to know and deliver their lines as their characters, making them seem believable in everything they say. But it’s by Agatha Christie, so we know that at least one of these characters cannot be trusted. But which one?

When I was selected to direct this show I made a decision that meant I had to ask the cast to trust me. Trust me as a director and trust that what I was asking them to do would help discover and create their characters. In return, I would have to trust them. I asked them not to read the end of the play. As I write this, a little over two weeks before opening, I can tell you the cast only just found out the end. As such, I believe that it has been beneficial in some of the character choices they have made. I trust them now to bring the story to life and lead you in the way only Agatha can write.

As a director, I have also had to trust my staff. Not an easy thing for me. Letting go and giving them creative choices and then trusting them implicitly to execute those choices along with my vision. And lastly, I have had to trust my [meddling] stage manager – without whom this show would not run as envisioned.

Do you trust me now?

Richard Atha-Nicholls

Cast (In order of appearance)

  • Richard Warwick: John Scheeler
  • Laura Warwick: Shirley Panek
  • Michael Starkwedder: Jeff Mocho
  • Miss Bennett: Jean Berard
  • Jan Warwick: Ethan Goldberg
  • Mrs. Warwick: Elizabeth McWilliams
  • Henry Angell: Michael Rogers
  • Sergeant Cadwallader: Justin Truesdale
  • Inspector Thomas: Mark T. Allen
  • Julian Ferrar: John Scheeler

Production Staff

  • Director: Richard Atha-Nicholls
  • Producer: Andrea L. Elward
  • Stage Manager: Nell Codner-Jarashow
  • Set Design: Doug Dawson
  • Lead Carpenter: Dick Whaley
  • Carpenters: Lee Craft, Jim Robinson, Ted Yablonski
  • Set Decoration & Painting: Tom Ammon, Debby Dawson, Doug Dawson
  • Costume Design: Linda Swann
  • Properties Design: Jeannie Beall
  • Properties Assistants: Peggy Schmeltzer, Cornelia Watson
  • Lighting Design: Michael M. Harris
  • Lighting Consultant: Jennifer Parris
  • Lighting Assistants: Terry Averill, Andrea L. Elward, Richard
  • Atha-Nicholls, Drew Panek, Emma Panek, Shirley Panek, Jennifer Parris,
  • Tom Stuckey, Bob Walker
  • Sound Design: Ben Cornwell
  • Sound / Lighting Technicians: Debby Hall, Erin Gray
  • Dialect Coach: Betty Ann Leeseberg- Lange
  • Special Needs Consultant: Emilia O’Connor
  • Assistant to the Director: Nell Codner-Jarashow
  • Production Assistant: Amy Wheaton
  • Weapons Master: Mike Gidos
  • Lobby Display: Amy Wheaton
  • Play Consultant: Mickey Lund
  • Production Consultant: Tom Stuckey
  • Playbill / Poster Design: Jim Gallagher
  • Photography: David Colburn
  • Program Editor: Tom Stuckey

Disclaimer: Colonial Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.