Reviewed by Bob Wilcox
Even when the English country house is not isolated and no storm knocks out lights and phone, Agatha Christie remains Agatha Christie.
The country house named The Hollow is the home of a retired colonial governor and his ditzy wife. They're hosting a country weekend for a group that's mostly made up of relatives of varying degrees of consanguinity to the hostess. The exception are a doctor and his wife, and he, who has been fooling around with one too many women, is the one who gets knocked off, right on cue, at the end of the first act.
The characters spend an unusual amount of time, for Christie, explaining themselves to themselves and each other. But this doesn't give them any more depth than we usually find in Christie's characters, who are merely pawns in the elaborate guessing game she sets up.
As usual, Christie waits until the last minute to reveal information without which we couldn't possibly make a well-grounded guess about the killer. This always makes me feel cheated. And in the case of The Hollow, the information reveals a side of one of the characters that we've never seen before and that seems quite out of character for the character. Otherwise, Christie does keep the game amusing with character quirks, red herrings, and reasonably brisk dialogue.
To make those quirks and that dialogue amusing in the theatre, a cast needs to be alert to the melodic and rhythmic possibilities in the characters and the dialogue that let us see and enjoy the quirks of character and the twists and turns of plot. That, unfortunately, is where the Clayton Community Theatre's current production of The Hollow lets us down. Too much of the time, it plods along at the same relentless pace.
Maryann Pass does sparkle as the hostess, given to amusing non sequiturs. Andy Akester gets to run through a range of emotions as the murder victim, as does Erin Vlasaty as one of his old flames, now a movie star. Donald Shaw is the perfect English butler and Kerith Parashak an impudent young housemaid. As the host, Matthew Lindquist maintains a warm dignity. Karen Wood, the doctor's mousy wife, whines a lot. Carla Brown shows a sympathetic intelligence as one of the points of a romantic triangle. Vince Wieck and Sarah Wieck share a pitiable pair of colorless characters who did elicit a sympathetic sigh from the young woman sitting in front of me. As the police inspector, Nathan Schroeder played his cards close to the chest, a nice contrast to the enthusiasms of Mike Raney as his sergeant.
Tim Kelly designed the handsome set for this English country house, and Julie Smailys' costumes grace it with some lovely evening frocks for the women and a handsome double-breasted pin-striped suit for the doctor. Though awkwardness occasionally creeps into director Nieccole Hilliard's blocking, she usually manages to keep the action of the large cast clear. But I wish everyone at the Clayton Community Theatre would have more fun with the games Agatha Christie plays in The Hollow.
The production continues weekends through July 29 . Phone 314-721-9228 for tickets and information.