The Hollow by Agatha Christie. Directed by Cal Forsman
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Itís a question of the right values."
Clark Carmichael and Gardner Reed; Photo: Harry Lee
Painting pictures, portraits in words, was Agatha Christieís finest accomplishment. Her mysteries are good ones, sound and sturdy, interestingly odd and loaded with twists, mis-direction, and often the excitement engendered by more than one death. But it is her people we remember, long after the book is laid aside, or the play has closed. We cannot forget Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, Hercule Poirot or, indeed, any of her detectives. Some of her villains and victims are equally memorable and her plays have given us constant delights.
"The Hollow," which was originally published as "Murder After Hours," an Hercule Poirot mystery novel in 1946, was recreated by the author as a play in 1951 without her most famous detective. In his place she offered Inspector Colquhoon and his able, maid-enticing associate Detective Sergeant Penny. It is that play which is now on the stage at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vermont.
In this work Christie presents us with cousins among the uppercrust, the Angkatell family: Sir Henry, his wife and cousin, Lady Lucy, their cousin Henrietta - a sculptor, another cousin who has inherited the family Manse, Edward and a half-cousin Midge Harvey who works in a dress shop. Though not made entirely clear it would seem a distant relative John Cristow is also among the guests for the weekend at the "Hollow" the home of Henry and Lucy. With him is his wife Gerda and, in short order, his former lover Veronica Craye, now a successful Hollywood actress. As is inevitable in these situations there are the servants, Doris and the butler Gudgeon. Enough characters, with enough relationships, to keep the audience guessing right up to the last scene as to just who is the murderer being sought by Scotland Yard for the death of one of the above.
I am not one to give away too much information in reviewing a mystery play, so donít expect spoilers in the copy to follow. I will say, however, that in this production the mystery crackles, the relationships tickle and the evening, three acts with two intermissions, comes in at about two and a half hours of bright and brittle conversation.
Director Carl Forsman has just the right touch for this material. He keeps things well paced and understandable and as tensions mount and suspicions are tossed from one set of hands to another he lets us see without pointing a finger how it is both easy and possible to misunderstand motives, to make decisions without facts, to come to conclusions that do not end at the stopping point. He has done a beautiful job with Christieís play, and in doing so, has created a few new bright stars among his current resident company.
The actors, for the most part, are people who appeared earlier this season in "Merton of the Movies." With the true of a repertory company people who were featured in lead roles in the earlier play move into the support arena and those who had smaller roles in the first now take over the stage in this piece.
Chief among them was a scene-stealing actress from the "Merton.." Ann McDonough who plays the quick-witted, though daft, Lady Lucy Angkatell. McDonough takes the delicious monologues and movements of her character to subtle extremes, as she did in her landlady role last time. She can enter carrying a basket of eggs, leave them hither and yon, forget them, find them, see them without comprehension, ask about them and finally relinquish them with the softness of the confused mind while still remaining focused on the issues under discussion. Her bright smile alters her face completely as she goes from the fear of being in a room with a murderer to discussing her own vague plans to commit the same murder; then she takes utter delight in the inconclusive inquest rating it highly for its commitment to discovery. All in all, if there was no one else in this play it would be recommended for her work alone.
Gardner Reed is a wonderful Henrietta, dynamic, filled with secrets, romantic and yet resolutely honest. Her classic features are just right for Henrietta; her voice is sharp enough to cut a thick-crusted baguette. In the third act she manages to pull of the nearly impossible - she becomes transparent. Her equal in the subtleties of interpretation is Mark Alhadeff as the Inspector. Clearly an individual from the upper set himself, his poise and his profile are almost classic British while his presentation of his character is quietly aggressive and controlling.
Kirk Jackson is a wonderful, almost stuffy, Sir Henry. Itís wonderful to watch him, pole-up-spine, reserved and proper, melt when his young half-cousin comes into the room. She is played beautifully by Kim Hausler. Her rage at being considered too young is thrilling in one so young.
The Cristowís are excellently portrayed by Clark Carmichael and Crystal Finn. Her mixed heritage is perfectly played out in Finnís use of a different accent from the others. His superiority is a visible one; attitude is everything with him. Ted Caine is just fine as Gudgeon and Larissa Goldberg is a marvelous Doris. Curran Connor is almost too lascivious as Penny, but it works for him, especially when Doris makes a confession.
Helen Farmer is odd as Veronica. I donít know why, except that perhaps her character seems odd in the context of this place and among these people. Still, there was just something I couldnít quite believe about her character. One hundred eighty degrees opposed to that is Mark Emersonís exquisite Edward Angkatell. There was not one moment over-played, under-played or out-of-keeping in his interpretation of this complex, yet simple, man. If Ann McDonough should be out of the show when you see it, the play will still have this opposite pole to support the fragile tenting of mystery that makes this play work so well. Emerson was "Merton" in the last piece and in combination with that character, it would seem that this actor has a major career in his future.
The gorgeous set by Bill Clarke is effectively lit by Josh Bradford and the costumes designed by Theresa Squire are one hundred percent correct for the characters. Physically and from the directorial point of view the production is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
You may not be a fan of mysteries, but if you are a fan of live theater that keeps you awake and on your toes, this is the play to see.
Helen Farmer and Mark Alhadeff; photo: Harry Lee
Mark Emerson and Kim Hausler; photo: Harry Lee
The Hollow plays through August 8 at the Dorset Playhouse in Dorset Vermont. Located at 104 Cheney Road just off the town square, tickets and information are available through the box office at 802-867-5777.