BWW Review: Go to GO BACK FOR MURDER at Oyster Mill
Mystery lovers, asked about Agatha Christie plays, usually single out THE MOUSETRAP, the longest-running play anywhere, still going strong on the West End, or AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, thanks to its ingenious killings (and possibly their sheer numbers). But Christie was prolific in plays as well as in novels, and also gave us GO BACK FOR MURDER. Based upon the Hercule Poirot novel FIVE LITTLE PIGGIES, it was adapted for the stage without Poirot, because much as his "little grey cells" are fun to read, a dark play, in her mind, always needed black humor or a romance, so she needed a love interest (while we may love Poirot, the female characters don't love him like that).
On the Oyster Mill Playhouse stage, Christie veteran Aliza Bardfield (still memorable locally for her performance in Christie's SPIDER'S WEB) directs Christie's tale of reverse deduction, a case taken up after both the victim and the convicted killer are dead. Clara Crale (Rebecca Lease) has been raised by relatives in Canada, with no idea that her biological father, a well-known painter, was murdered, or that her biological mother was convicted of the same. Then she receives a letter from her deceased mother, informing her that she had never committed the crime. Clara believes her, despite the likelihood that any mother would deny this to their child, and comes back to England to find the killer. She's aided reluctantly by her fiancé, Jeff (Dakota Eschenmann) and by solicitor Justin Fogg (Jacob Tingstrom), who is the son of mama's solicitor, and who had a teenage crush on the murderess in the dock.
There are only five suspects besides the late Caroline Crane: Caroline's young sister, who disliked Caroline's husband Amyas; the sister's governess, who was devoted to Caroline; Amyas' mistress; and two family friends, brothers, one once in love with Caroline and the other in love with Amyas' mistress. Clara believes that interviewing the suspects and re-enacting the crime at the family home will uncover the truth.
Of course, this is a Christie play. The butler didn't do it, as there's no butler, but the options range from the least likely suspect to the most obvious, and even the likelihood that Clara's mother was indeed guilty. One of the five has a secret that reveals everything, and knows that it does, but does it mean what they think? Who hated Amyas Crale enough to kill him, and why?
Lease does a lovely job of portraying both the worried Clara and her harrowed mother, Caroline, while Jack Eilber is delightfully dubious as family friend Philip Blake. Also notable is Caitlyn Davis, last seen at Oyster Mill in BLITHE SPIRIT, as Angela Warren, the younger sister of Caroline. It doesn't help anyone's faith in Caroline that she once tried to kill Angela, who bears scars from the attempt. Is Angela's profession of belief in Caroline's innocence a little too ingenuous? What is she hiding? And Tingstrom warms up throughout the first act to become a Columbo-like narrator-investigator in the disclosures of the second act who might or might not be pulling a few strings of his own.
If there's anything at all dubious about the play itself, it's that the solution of the murder requires a bit of contrivance that might not be strictly fair play by Christie. The direction is tight, the set design is clever, it's well paced, and the cast is solid. There's a fair chunk of mystery and suspense on the Oyster Mill schedule this season, and this is a great start to that. Running through February 11. Visit oystermill.com for tickets and information.