Review by J. A. Di Bello
FORESTBURGH, NY (June 11, 2014) – It’s over; the wait is over! Summer has arrived at last, and she’s content, accompanied by an entourage of extended evenings, patio parties, glorious sunrises, and oh, just one more: “Another op’nin’, another show!” Agatha Christie’s “A Murder Is Announced” marks the beginning of the 68th anniversary season at the Forestburgh Playhouse.
To launch what promises to be a season filled with drama, music and an increasingly noteworthy cabaret, Sullivan County’s Miracle in the Forest began its season Tuesday night (June 10) with a sumptuous, stimulating Opening Night Gala. To embellish the setting and perhaps as an anticipatory set for the evening’s drama, the pre-performance Cabaret in The Tavern was a tribute to what is known as the “British Invasion,” a salute to the English, Agatha Christie and a period known here in the States as “Beatlemania.” Patrons reminisced to the authentic sounds, music and memories conveniently kindled by the sounds and lyrics of the Beatles, the Monkees, Dusty Springfield, Elton John and others. Aside from the superb vocal talent displayed, the dance routines and movements seamlessly woven into each cabaret number were beyond expectations. And it is not a wonder, the multi-talented Gabriella Perez, a veteran of the Forestburgh Playhouse, (Anita “West Side Story,” choreographer “9 to 5”) choreographed the evening’s Cabaret production. Thankfully, she will return this summer to choreograph additional main stage productions.
There were joyful routines, festive activities each designed to prepare all for the tantalizing, suspense filled drama that followed on the main stage. Especially entertaining on the cabaret stage was the performance of a vocal percussionist, Kyle Kemph. His ability to create sounds with his mouth that serve a purpose identical to a percussion instrument did not go unnoticed by an accepting and appreciative audience. Another new talent in the cabaret is the highly talented pianist, Trevor Pierce. Refreshing is his proficiency and artistic aptitude in the multi-tasking role of accompanying and directing an assembled collection of talented actors.
Although not on the performing stage at the Forestburgh Cabaret, but certainly performing in the arena of culinary specialties is the much appreciated Tavern Manager and Chef, Jill Padua. The results, without hesitation, exceeded all expectations! The Cabaret is bound to expand and propel the reputation and appeal of the Forestburgh Playhouse. Bravo!
This season is a first, a début, for noted actor, director Franklin Trapp (seen at right in photo shaking hands with former Producer Norman Duttweiler), who now as Producer stands at the helm guiding and formally presenting a season of top-notch, main stage entertainment. His maiden voyage aboard Leslie Darbon’s for stage adaption of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder Is Announced,” remains a mixture of eccentric, bizarre characters, and misfits bound by suspicious behaviors, red herrings and tingling suspense all placed in motion by an intricate plot of circumstances and the legendary sleuth Miss Marple.
To jump start a serpentine, mysterious plot and a plethora of whimsical characters the local newspaper in the country village of Chipping Cleghorn, UK prints a curious, intriguing announcement: There will be a murder that night at Little Paddocks, home of the stately Letitia Blacklock, and several intriguing guests. Sandy York, as Letitia more than fully represents the embodiment of an uppity British woman. And as an acute audience might suspect, there is a murder! And it’s just a moment after the stage goes to black! Convenient? Of course. But that’s theatre and the appropriate insertion or inclusion of such devices is what makes a mystery drama work. And this play does work! The characters are quirky and a tad on the odd side, but let them lie. Ellen Pavloff as Dora Bunner is enjoyably batty and more than just delightful. Carolann Page is brilliant as Miss Marple. She holds the stage and acutely projects a credible image of a smart, unassuming, woman with a crafty and oh so suspicious gaze. Chris Van Cleave dominates the stage as the curt, just-the-facts ma’am, Inspector Craddock. The charming and always attractive Chiara Trentalange accurately portrays the young, mysteriously secretive “widow” Phillipa Haymes.
Rebecca Simon as Mitzi is deliciously and suspiciously pecuilar. She allows Mitzi’s persecution complex among other factors to take over the stage to the point where the audience sits up and takes notice with each of Rebecca’s entrances.
This play, without deception is a murder mystery, with plots, subplots, suspense and quirky characters. Trent Blanton, as Director, has provokingly manipulated the story’s pace, allowing those crucial elements to surface and be enjoyed by an enthusiastic and appreciative Forestburgh audience. Also, with the sustained popularity of the open stage, Ashleigh Poteat’s design immediately establishes the setting of a neat, comfortable living room in a middle-of-nowhere country village. The Big Band sound as utilized by Sound Designer Joshua Williams accurately suggests the time portion of the intended setting.
This play, as presented, is great fun. If one might hyperbolize ever so slightly, the event could easily serve as a field trip for a general Psych. class. The just-for-fun objective: to separate the neurotics from the psychotics.
“A Murder is Announced” is playing at the Forestburgh Playhouse through Sunday June 15, with pre-show Cabaret on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. After the show, late night Cabarets are on Friday and Saturday. Box office: 845-794-1194.