Mention the name “Agatha Christie” and what springs to mind are a number of intricately woven alibis surrounding a seemingly unconnected number of suspects all gathered around a hopefully minimal number of bodies — dead, of course.
The corpse count is low (one) in “Go Back for Murder,” the Christie challenger which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. The question, however, remains the same: who dunnit?
Gathered on stage in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production are the usual suspects but, in this challenge, they are asked to turn back the clock to name the killer. The murder was committed 16 years ago and someone was convicted and subsequently died in prison.
Debating that verdict is Carla LeMarchant Crale (Kinsey Muhlenkamp), daughter of the victim (her philandering artist father Amyas Crale) and the murderer (her long-suffering mother Caroline Crale), who declared her innocence in a letter to her daughter. The maguffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would say, is the striking resemblance Carla bears to Caroline and, of course, as one of the characters remarks, “Nothing is what I seems.”
Carla was five years old at the time of the murder and recalls little of the actual crime. Sure the killer was someone else, she asks Justin Fogg (Brett Noneman), son of her mother’s defense attorney, to reassemble all the suspects at the scene of the crime in hopes of finding the real criminal.
Behind her request is the idea (eventually correct) that her fiancé Jeff Rogers (Hayden Ludlow) will leave her if he feels she may have inherited a murderous tendency.
So the “suspects” gather — businessman Phillip Blake (Scott Fowler); his brother chemist Meredith Blake (Chuck Bower); model Elsa Greer/later Lady Elsa Melksham (Rachel McKenzie); governess Miss Williams (Amy Pawlosky), and Carla’s younger half-sister Angela Warren (Bonnie McGowan) .
Each shares his/her recollection of the event, then time turns back to include Amyas (Ludlow) and Caroline (Muhlencamp), and the day of the murder is replayed.
As witb all Agatha Christie works, the plot is tightly interwoven and it frequently is difficult to keep track of just who is who and why they are suspect.
Possibly director Jerry O’Boyle kept this in mind during the practically motionless first act in which the backgrounds and motivations of all concerned are laid out in physically static blocks of daunting dialogue. This is primarily assigned to Muhlencamp who delivers it with dispassionate clarity.
Nobody moves but, as in all Christie plots, it is important to pay close attention.
This especially in order to keep track of what really happened as the protagonists become increasingly active and later conversations are sometimes difficult to understand.
The set design by John Shoup is deceptively simple, the reason becomes obvious as the conversations with each “suspect” are held in various locations (Act I) and throughout the multi-area country home and garden (Act II). Changes are made quickly and quietly without disturbing the flow of the narrative.
The lighting design by Brian McGowan heightens the melodramatic atmosphere but sometimes could be a bit brighter to allow faces to be more easily seen.
Must note that, as with many other theater groups today, the use of wigs seems to have become a requirement rather than a choice. No problem with that except when, as in the case here, it obscures the face (and, consequently, the voice) of the main protagonist.
Under many of the scenes is a primarily piano score. It ends orchestrally with the theme from “Laura” and is, I assume, a directorial choice. It’s relevance is, however, still a mystery.
GO BACK FOR MURDER plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St., Bristol. For show times and reservations, call 848-4116 or visit elkhartcivictheatre.org