Aside from its thought-provoking opener, “Red,” about the life and work of painter Mark Rothko, the Acadia Repertory Theatre has focused on fun this season with a French farce and a silly spy thriller.
Now, it is on to a clever closer, the Agatha Christie mystery “The Unexpected Guest.”
It’s a dark and foggy night when the titular Michael Starkwedder (Brandon Ewald) turns up at the country estate of the Warrick family. He has just run off the road in the fog and is seeking help. As it turns, out he is the one whose help is sought.
What he finds when he comes through the parlor French doors is the wheelchair-bound master of the house shot dead and his wife Laura (Sarah Parker) cowering in a corner clearly traumatized and claiming to be guilty of the crime.
She is only the first of several members of this dysfunctional household to confess to the murder, and the play turns out to be less of a “who dunnit?” and more of a “who din’t do it?”
After hearing the sad story of her abusive, small-animal killing husband, the unexpected guest, Mr. Starkwedder, is clearly taken by the fetching newly minted widow. Instead of phoning the police, he offers to help her cover up the crime by implicating someone else, a certain Mr. McGregor, who also has a strong motive for offing the offensive Mr. Warrick.
Actually, in true Christie fashion, everyone in the Warrick household has a compelling motive for murder, including his dear old mum (a wonderful return appearance by Cheryl Willis).
Other suspects include the half-wit brother, Jan, (a stand-out performance by Jacob Mobley); his manipulative caregiver Miss Bennet (Charlotte Calvert); the unctuous male nurse Henry Angell (Frank Bachman); and Mrs. Warrick’s lover, the handsome neighbor Julian Farrar (Joey Hamburger). Sorting out this tangled web of deceit and ill will is Inspector Thomas (Bernard Hope) and his assistant Sgt. Cadwallader (Sam Plattus).
And of course, it is great fun for the audience as suspicion leaps like a hungry flea from one character to the next.
The entire ensemble does a fine job bringing these characters to life. In addition to Mr. Mobley’s outstanding take on the unbalanced Jan and Ms. Willis’ excellent and empathetic Mrs. Warrick, Mr. Bachman was especially effective as the pompously pernicious Mr. Angell. Mr. Hope was perfect as the officious Inspector.
Mr. Ewald also made solid oak-like presence for the distraught Laura to lean upon. While one might wish that Ms. Parker looked a bit more alluring and a little less like a soccer mom to elicit those protective instincts, and that Ms. Calvert was a tad more “Nurse Ratchett” severe as Miss Bennet, it would be nitpicking.
As the handsome neighbor, Julian, Mr. Hamburger, was uh, delicious.
The set by Katie McCarthy was terrific as were most of the costumes. Special note must be made of Francis Snyder’s chilling music, which put us all in the proper mood for a murder.
“The Unexpected Guest” plays at the theater in Somesville through Saturday, Aug. 30, at 8:15 p.m. with a final 2 p.m. matinee performance Sunday, Aug. 31.
Also running through Aug. 30 is Cheryl Willis’ Children’s Theater adaptation of the classic “Puss in Boots,” which plays at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Acadia Rep is located in Somesville. For more information, call the Box Office at 244-7260 or visit at www.acadiarep.com.