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Murder most formulaic

The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ at Hedgerow Theatre

In
3 minute read
Another brilliant detective with a not-so-bright foil: Yates and Kovcic. (Photo courtesy Hedgerow Theatre)
Another brilliant detective with a not-so-bright foil: Yates and Kovcic. (Photo courtesy Hedgerow Theatre)

Agatha Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was written in 1916 and published in 1920, introduced her famous detective Hercule Poirot.

While the Dame of murder mysteries wrote many plays, sometimes adapting her own novels for the theater, she didn't put this one on stage. Hedgerow Theatre Company's artistic director Jared Reed corrects the oversight with his clever, stylish script.

The play premiered by Hedgerow, directed by Reed, shows Christie still developing her skills. I winced a little when Shaun Yates's character, Captain Hastings, tells an acquaintance early in the play that he's always wanted to be a detective; everyone watching knows that someone will soon be murdered and he'll get his chance. He's soon joined by Zoran Kovcic as Poirot, and they begin a relationship closely resembling that of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

The inevitable investigation . . .

The murder occurs in similarly predictable fashion as an assortment of moody misfits gathers at Styles. Rich Mrs. Inglethorp (Stacy Skinner) is the requisite victim, and her younger husband, Inglethorp (Mark Swift), seems a likely suspect, but everyone's consumed by guilty secrets and smoldering resentments: sons Lawrence (Brock D. Vickers) and John (Ned Pryce) are both broke, Lawrence's wife Mary (Bonnie Baldini) may be flirting with Dr. Bauerstein (Josh Portera), volatile family friend Evelyn (Allison Bloechl) seems capable of murder, and secretary Cynthia (Emily Parker) and maid Dorcas (Susan Wefel) had the means and opportunities. All are "sharks," according to Evie.

Give credit to Christie for involving so many female suspects, and to Reed for injecting the proceedings with energy through short scenes, tableaus, flashbacks, and sound designer Leslie Ann Boyden's ominous chimes. Kovcic's set design allows quick changes and features Hedgerow's stone walls, giving this "glorious old place" Styles some English aristocratic authenticity. Reed's specific lighting and Kayla Speedy's period costumes help make this a handsome production.

. . . and the customary revelation

Though Hastings (who, like Watson, narrates) says of Poirot, "I found him mad as a hatter — and when he's at his maddest, there seems to be method in it," the Belgian detective is actually dully methodical. He peppers his conversation with mon ami but his meticulous examination of the murder scene is, by necessity, a task more exacting than exciting. He has some droll moments — "There's altogether too much strychnine about this case," he observes — but the play builds slowly and deliberately, with few surprises.

Reed supplies some delicious moments, however, such as the end of Act II (the play has two short intermissions, giving us a chance to vote for our favorite suspect), when Poirot answers Hastings's question about the murderer's identity by saying, "I know," and then asks the audience, "Do you?"

In Act III, he parks his nervous suspects in a sitting room, divulging his findings and revealing the killer. After much tidy reasoning, the climactic revelation surprises, eliciting gasps and discussion in the audience at Sunday's matinee. During the curtain call, a drawing from those who guessed the killer awards two lucky people with tickets to Hedgerow's next show, The Servant of Two Masters (May 26 - June 26).

For more classic Christie, check out The Mousetrap at McCarter Theatre through March 27.

What, When, Where

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, adapted and directed by Jared Reed. Through May 8 at the Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley, PA. 610-565-4211, hedgerowtheatre.org.

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