By Dee Jae Cox
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, aka crime novelist Agatha Christie, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. And so, it’s little wonder that a play adapted by Leslie Darbon from Christie’s novel, “A Murder is Announced,” currently in production at Desert Theatreworks in Palm Desert, would still enthrall audiences over 60 years after the publication of the book. Darbon’s script is funny, engaging, suspenseful and demonstrates a prime example of the rare occasion that an adaptation might be just as good as the book.
Taking us back to 1950 England, a notice in the local paper declares, “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation.” Who would be so brazen and bold as to publicly proclaim they are about to commit a murder? Well thank the stars that Miss Marple is there to solve this mystery. The public notice sets up the story for a whodunit that features the best ensemble of characters you’ll find on any stage. And Desert Theatreworks has outdone themselves in the brilliant casting of this ageless classic, all of which are worth mentioning. There’s Letitia Blacklock (Marjorie Lewis,) as the owner of the house, and at her side, struggling to keep the facts straight, is her lifelong friend Dora Bunner (Renee Poignard.) Mitzi (Heidi Hapner) is the suspicious maid who struggles with the truth and then there’s Philllipa Haymes (Brianna Eylicio,) the single mother who’s a recent guest of Letitia’s. Julia Simmons, (Phylicia Mason) and her brother Patrick , (Alex Updike) Letitia’s niece and nephew, whom she hasn’t seen since they were children, are on hand to add intrigue. Mrs. Clara Swettenham (Rebecca Hertzgaard) and her son Edmund, (Adrian Esqueda) just happen to drop in at the announced time of the anticipated murder.
The lights are out, an intruder arrives and within moments someone is dead. Scotland Yard’s brilliant detectives, Inspector Craddock (Jason Lewis) and Sergeant Mellors (John-Alex Houlton,) arrive on the scene and begin their search for the clues to solve this crime. But it’s the inquisitive and incomparable Miss Jane Marple, (June August) who is the sharp sleuth that puts all of the puzzle pieces together and solves this mystery. It’s truly one of the rare occasions that I have seen such a large cast and each character independently stood out and captured their own unique spotlight.
I loved being surprised as Miss Marple slowly revealed each clue and piece of evidence. False identities, hidden motives and unexpected outcomes kept me leaning forward in my seat for the entire performance. And I can honestly say, I didn’t see it coming.
This is a Class A production. Bravo to set designer Bruce Weber, whose set depicted the perfect replication of a Victorian home in small town England. Though not identified specifically in the program, I found the music choice to be spot on for this show. It set a perfect tone and mood for the scenes and beautifully enhanced the anticipation of what was to come next in this thriller. Standing Ovation for Director Lance Phillips-Martinez who staged this show with perfect nuances and elements of charm and mystery.
If you are looking for a fun night out, a few laughs and wonderful performances from a stellar cast, A Murder is Announced, is the show to see. It can be recommended for all ages. “A Murder is Announced,” is a production of Desert Theatreworks and can be seen through November 13th at the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, located at 73750 Catalina Way in Palm Desert.
For Reservations: call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project. www.californiawoman411.com