A Trip To The Past To Catch A Killer

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.”

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INCarla 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.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INAs 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.

Go Back For Murder Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe 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

Williams Classic On South Bend Stage

Even from someone with little or no knowledge of theater, the name of Tennessee Williams will evoke a response.

The soft-spoken Southerner who, with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, forms the triumvirate of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, created characters that continue to challenge a wide range of actors from amateurs to veterans..

Accepting that challenge with a 70th anniversary production of Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” South Bend Civic Theatre opened the second show of its 2017-18 season Friday evening in its mainstage Wilson Theatre.

A Streetcar Named Desire South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnder the direction of Aaron Nichols, the 11-member cast was undaunted by the task of recreating several of the American theater’s best known dramatis personae. To those who believe the comedians’ mantra that “tragedy is easy,” just try a touch of Tennessee.

Especially when the many of the characters have become more than closely identified with their creators. This identification is never more closely linked than with “Streetcar’s” male protagonist, Stanley Kowalski, and his originator on stage and screen, Marlon Brando.

The task of not only becoming Stanley but erasing, as much as possible, the image of Brando, is undoubtedly one of the most daunting in theater.

It is one that Scott Jackson takes on with admirable abandon even though his earthy physicality is rather restrained and, considering the humidity of the New Orleans setting, lacking in sweat. His obvious frustration with the unannounced — and seemingly unending — visit from his pretentiously genteel sister-in-law Blanche DuBois (Anastasia Spalding) begins with his realization that the family plantation has been “let go” rather than sold and, finally stretched to the breaking point, culminates in an explosive confrontation as he drunkenly hurls the secrets of Blanche’s past in the face of her ever-weakening grasp on reality.

Spalding’s Blanche struggles with harsh realism of life in the French Quarter and the comforting illusions of her youth. Appalled by her younger sister Stella’s acceptance of the raw facts of her life with a husband Blanche describes as “bestial,” she weaves rose-colored fantasies of what life could be, increasingly haunted by the suicide of her young husband.

Stella (Alexandra Rowell) is caught between the animalistic pull of her husband’s carnality and the emotional lure of her sister’s romantic dreams. Trying desperately to find a common ground, she finally must make a definitive choice. (Note: Not the same in the stage and film versions.) Unfortunately, Rowell spoke so softly on opening night that the majority of her dialogue was unheard.

A Streetcar Named Desire  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs Mitch, one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies, Don Elliott goes from willingly playing gallant knight to Blanche’s lady to cruelly exposing her fantasies in the raw light of a single bulb. Their scenes together are sensitively played and initially end with hope, however ill-fated.

The width of the Wilson stage is well used in Jill Hillman’s multi-level set design, with an iron spiral stairway at the left leading from the ground level Kowalski apartment to that of their friends Eunice (Dawn Marie Hagerty) and Steve (Curt Goodrich) Hubbell and, on the opposite side, the 4 Deuces Bar, complete with instrumental quartet. Most of the action takes place in the two-room apartment center stage which manages to feel cramped in spite of the surrounding space.

The use of music — original combined with popular hit songs of the period — is a plus to this production, with arranger Roy Bronkema as pianist and Jibrail Jones, Luke Vasilarakos and Anival Fausto completing the group. Fausto doubled as a poker player.

The costumes could be a good deal more worn in keeping with the just-above poverty level of the setting.

As in all plays, suspension of disbelief in varying degrees is important.

“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE” plays through April 9 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.