Expect The Unexpected

Last night we went to one of our favorite venues, the Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita (Saugus) to see The Unexpected Guest. The Unexpected Guest was written by Agatha Christie in 1958, and was adapted into a novel in 1999. This is critically acclaimed as one of Christie’s best plays.

The Unexpected Guest takes place at a foggy estate in Wales. As the play opens, we are in the main sitting room of Richard Warwick (Edward Harminer). There are lots of game trophies on the wall, including a mounted elephant gun, and we see the back of a man in a wheelchair. We then hear the sound of a car breaking down, and a man (later identified as Michael Starkwedder (Eric J. Stein*) enters the scene. He discovered that the man in wheelchair has been shot in the head. As he is reacting to this, in comes the man’s wife, Laura Warwick (Caroline Bielskis), who confessess to the murder. Unconvinced by her explanation, Starkwedder tries to come up with another murderer that would acceptable to the police. He finally concocts the story that Warwick was murdered by MacGregor, the father of a boy Warwick ran over two years previous. At this point, the investigation begins (headed by Inspector Thomas (Blair Bess) and his assistant, Sergeant Cadwallader (William O Ross)) and we meet the family. We learn that Warwick was loved by no one in particular. We learn that Warwick was originally a strong and well liked big game hunter who was injured in an accident, and became mean and vindictive after his confinement in a wheelchair. His hobbies were shooting at cats, squirrels, and raccoons from his wheelchair, and drinking. His wife, unsatisfied, had found a boyfriend in Julian Farrar (Daniel Lench*). His step-brother, Jan Warwick (Charlie Fecske), who was mentally-disabled in an unidentified fashion, was angry at his brother for threatening to send him to an institution. Warwick was cared for by Henry Angell (Bill Quinn), who was not treated well, but was well-compensated for the abuse. Also in the household was Warwick’s mother, the senior Mrs. Warwick (Christina Rideout), who was well aware of her son’s faults, and Mrs. Warwick’s caretaker, Miss Bennett (Lynne McAllen). By the time we’re in the second act, we learn that MacGregor is reported to have died in an accident in Alaska two years before this shooting. This, of course, eliminates him as a suspect. As we learn more and more about the families, plausible murders keep being identified… or eliminated. The play ends with a completely unexpected ending, which I shan’t give away.

As always, Rep East did an excellent job. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Eric J. Stein (who looks remarkably like my next-door neighbor), Bill Quinn (who was excellent as always), and Charlie Fecske. Two performance were a little less than: I found Lynne McAllen’s performance to be a little bit stiff and lifeless, although that may have been what her character was like. I also had trouble with the accent of William O Ross — we weren’t quite sure of what he was trying to pull off, but it was difficult to understand. Also notable in this production were the excellent sets designed by Katie Mitchell (who also served as stage manager), and the ominous sound design by the always excellent Nanook (Steven Burkholder).

The remainder of the staff for this production includes Julie Schnieder as Director, assisted by Falon Felix. Lighting Design was by Kelley C. Kippen, with costumes by Dusty Dawn Reasons. The program (as well as all REP publicity material) is designed by the ever capable Mikee Schwinn. The Artistic Director of REP East is Ovington Michael Owston.

“The Unexpected Guest” continues at REP East until December 8th. For more information, visit the REP East Home Page. Tickets are available through Goldstar Events or directly through REP East.

REP East has announced their 2008 season, which looks quite good. No dates as of yet, but the shows planned are: “Steel Magnolias,” “W;t,” “The Full Monty: The Musical,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “Ten Little Indians”. The 81 Series (short run shows for mature audience) are “Hurleyburly”, “Necessary Targets”, and “Suburbia”.

While at the REP East, I spoke to both “O” and Mikee about my latest concern: Why we can’t publicize the wonderful theatre in the greater Los Angeles area? I know that in some sense the LA Theatre Community does itself in: the focus is on the “big” or “name” theaters (CTG, Pasadena Playhouse, Pantages, Rubicon, South Coast, etc.), WeHo, NoHo, and the near-in Valleys and environs. It is difficult to get attention to the excellent theatre in the outlying areas such as Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks. The mainstream print media often makes publicity difficult, and as noted before, there is no Los Angeles Theatre podcast. I’ll say it again: there needs to be a “Broadway Bullet” style podcast for the Los Angeles Theatre scene that turns the spotlight on productions large and small, from shows like “The History Boys”, “Color Purple”, or “Wicked” to the Equity Waiver houses. That spotlights shows being revived or shows in their initial productions. That spotlights both imported actors as well as film/TV actors treading the board and our wonderful regional talent. We need this (but, alas, I don’t have the talent or connections to do it).

So what’s next on the Theatre calendar? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm; followed by a concern by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm. Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.

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