Spider’s Web | Review by Robert W. McDowell

THEATREFEST SAVES THE BEST FOR LAST: DAME AGATHA CHRISTIE WEAVES A TANGLED TALE IN THE COMIC WHODUNIT “SPIDER’S WEB”

University Theatre at N.C. State has saved the best for last in its “TheatreFest 2010: It’s Murder” series. Dame Agatha Christie’s SPIDER’S WEB combines comedy and suspense in a lethal combination; and newly appointed University Theatre assistant director Allison Bergman expertly navigates the twists and turns of this tangled tale, which unfolds in four scenes on a fateful evening in March 1960 in the drawing room at Copplestone Court, the Hailsham-Browns’ rented home in Kent.

Bergman and her crackerjack cast of TheatreFest veterans royally entertained the audience at last Sunday’s matinee performance by keeping everyone guessing the identity and motive of the murderer until the very last moment, as well as delightfully deceiving TheatreFest patrons while doling out a whole barrel full of red herrings.

Dana Marks is absolutely wonderful as Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, the new much younger fun-loving, tall-tale-telling second wife of somewhat stuffy senior Foreign Office diplomat Henry Hailsham-Brown (Gregor McElvogue) and the concerned and protective stepmother to troubled schoolgirl Pippa Hailsham-Brown (Betsy V. Newsome). With her good looks and great sense of humor, Clarissa is catnip to men, including the handsome young Jeremy Warrender (Joel Horton), who — with the slightest encouragement — would try to convince to violate her marital vows.

Other invited guests on this eventful evening include Clarissa’s doting guardian Sir Rowland Delahaye (Fred Corlett) and irascible local justice of the peace Hugo Birch (John T. “Jack” Hall III). Servants in attendance and staff on the grounds include Elgin the butler (Jim Sullivan) and gardener Mildred Peake (Kerry Sullivan). But it is an unexpected and decidedly unwelcome visit by Oliver Costello (David A. Klionsky), the thuggish husband of and suspected dealer to Henry Hailsham-Brown’s drug-addicted former wife, Miranda, that disrupts the bonhomie of a quiet evening at home and helps set in motion a series of events that leads to murder and precipitates the arrival at Copplestone Court of Detective Inspector Lord (Danny Norris) and his investigative assistant Constable Jones (Linh B. Schladweiler).

Dana Marks has a grand time giving what is undoubtedly one of the finest performances of her career, as she lets Clarissa’s overactive imagination run wild and create potential problems for herself by telling outrageous lies. Thus, when murder is afoot, Clarissa becomes the Girl Who Cried Wolf.

During all-too-brief appearances, Gregor McElvogue and Betsy Newsome make memorable impressions as Henry and Pippa Hailsham-Brown, the stodgy career diplomat nervous about a secret meeting scheduled for Copplestone Court later that night and the precocious young girl fearful that her drug-addled mother and scary stepfather Oliver Costello will demand shared custody.

Fred Corlett and Jack Hall add colorful, full-blooded characterizations as Sir Rowland and Hugo, respectively, two elderly gentlemen who try their dead level best to steer Clarissa away from trouble, but don’t always succeed. David Klionsky makes a brief but memorable visit to Copplestone Court as the odious Oliver Costello; and Kerry Sullivan is highly amusing as Miss Peake, whose horrible whinnying laugh is a hoot — and contagious to boot.

Danny Norris is positively Sherlock Holmesian as the unflappable Inspector Lord, Joel Horton is good as Clarissa’s flirtatious friend Jeremy Warrender, Jim Sullivan adds a sharp cameo as the brooding Elgin, and Linh Schladweiler is appropriately gruff as Constable Jones.

The splendidly detailed drawing-room set by scenic designer Nick Purdy, the eye-pleasing period fashions by costume designers John C. McIlwee and Jennifer Dasher, and the suspenseful lighting and sound design by Paul Pharris help director Allison Bergman create just the right atmosphere for murder. Don’t miss this superb comedy-thriller.

SECOND OPINION: June 23rd Durham, NC INDEPENDENT WEEKLY review by Zach Smith (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/agatha-christies-spiders-web-at-theatrefest/Content?oid=1496114.

University Theatre at N.C. State presents SPIDER’S WEB, as part of TheatreFest 2010, at 8 p.m. June 24-26 and 3 p.m. June 27 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, on E. Dunn Ave. at Jensen Dr., in Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $15 ($13 students and seniors and $5 NCSU students).

OTHER LINKS:

Agatha Christie: http://www.agathachristie.com/ (official website), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=3916 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002005/ (Internet Movie Database).

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).