The Tbeater Barn, New Lebanon, NY
The Stranger by Agatha Christie
Directed by John Trainor
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
“Dreams are quick tours.”
Matthew Tyler as Gerald Strange, Sasha Conley as Enid; Photo: Monica Bliss
The Plot. . .Thickens
Enid Bradshaw, played by Sasha Conley, has been engaged for seven years to Dick Lane (Stephen Heskett) who has been abroad for six of them. His return is imminent and she is prepared to marry him. Restless and uneasy the woman has been told she will meet a handsome stranger and. . .sure enough she does. The handsome and charming Gerald Strange, played by Matthew Tyler, comes along the same day that Dick returns to England. In a flash of quirkiness she throws Dick over and resolves to marry Gerald whom she has known for twenty minutes. His charms are irresistible and though he doesn’t know about her interest, they do wed and leave her London flat for a home in the country.
A trusting young woman she leaves behind family and friends including her best friend Doris West, played by Cara Moretto and a faithful if gossipy housekeeper Mrs. Huggins (Monica Bliss).
In her country cottage she is served by a curious housemaid, Mrs. Birch (Cara Moretto), whose own husband turns out to be a bigamist. Not bad for a start up Agatha Christie. Good characters, intriguing situations, endless possibilities. The play’s second and third acts have been combined into one as the plot thickens in this usual Christie setting. Gerald’s desk is locked; real-life mysteries are scattered around the room; legal papers are offered and signed. What could be coming next? Hmmm.
Monica Bliss as Mrs. Huggins, Cara Moretto as Doris; Photo:
On Sam Slack’s first act set Cara Moretto”s Doris and Monica Bliss’ Huggins amiably discuss fifty topics while preparing to rent the flat they’re in. That lively chat is disturbing to Sasha Conley’s Enid who is nervous about her returning fiancé. Moretto is charming as the upper middle class Doris and Bliss is both amusing and delectable as the cockney housekeeper.
They set a good tone for the play which retains much of this off-centeredness through the entire show. Bliss, incidentally, sings much better than her character which is a triibute to the actress’s ability as a character woman. As in other aspects of this early play, Christie doesn’t answer many questions about her plot or her people in this first act. We meet them but we don’t know them.
Matthew Tylere as Gerald, Cara Moretto as Mrs. Birch; Photo: Monica Bliss
When she returns as Mrs. Birch in the second act, Moretto completely alters into the imperfect servant, a country wench with a subplot all her own. Unlike later Christie, who gave much attention to domestics, Mrs. Birch is a literal red herring who offers nothing to the plot except a momentary distraction from the play’s realities. She makes a bit of trouble for her master with her mistress, but Gerald Strange makes little of it.
Act Two, however, begins to show us exactly how strange he really is. He is a man of many moods, all sudden and temporary, who works at his strangeness. Under John Trainor’s delicate and precise direction the man emerges stranger and stranger as the first scene progresses.
Christie handles the conclusion of her play in typical fashion. She allows her heroine to take awkward and frightening charge of the scene that should traditionally end with her death, but doesn’t. Will she find a happy ending or will she be condemned by the truth or will she end her reign of terror with a kiss or what...? Christie is cagey and likes her characters to have hints of every aspect of mankind’s impossibilities. Enid’s love for Scheherzade comes into play here and the author uses it well.
All three of her principals get their moments and we discover that clues dropped casually earlier in the play bear dramatic fruit in this country garden room setting. Coney, Tyler and Heskett do their best work in this final scene and the play excites the senses as things come to a conclusion. I would have appreciated a costume change for Enid and Gerald for this final act, just to be true to the time, place and customs of the day. Kara Demler , costume designer, would have outdone herself. Joseph Sicotte lights all of the mood changes subtly and well.
You don’t know this play and you should. I could find nothing about it in my Christie encyclopedia and I’d like to know more. At least I could see it and appreciate it. Like Enid, it only took a moment.
Sasha Conley as Enid, Stephen Heskett as Dick Lane; Photo: Monica Bliss
The Strager plays through July25 at The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at (518) 794-8989 (press 4).