CENTERVILLE — Typically, I am a big fan of the various productions at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre. I was quite excited as I filed into the intimate black box theater for A Murder is Announced as I was met with eerie blue lighting and velvety, ominous Victorian furniture. Classy but unsettling mood music accompanied the excited chatter of the audience, and curiosity filling the air. This stunning technical work in the production (with lighting design by Nathan Hadley, set design by Brian Hahn and Addie Holman, and sound design by Camille Chandler) is a masterpiece, setting the tone perfectly. It felt like I was sitting on Disneyland’s Tower of Terror, waiting for the ride to begin. The stage was set, and as an audience member, they had me hooked. I was excited to be transported. Then, the lights came up.
The stage is set in an early Victorian home in the fictional town of Chipping Cleghorn, England. The date is Friday the 13th, and a notice has appeared in the morning paper: “A murder is announced.” A murder is predicted to occur at Little Paddocks, the home where Letitia Blacklock and her family currently reside. Making light of it, intrigued guests gather that Friday evening, curious about the announcement. When the lights go out and someone is shot, the investigation begins. Who committed the murder? Who posted the announcement? Find out in this classic Agatha Christie “who dunnit,” adapted by Leslie Darbon, as the marvelous Miss Marple solves the case.
Wanda Copier as Miss Marple is one of the redeeming parts of this production. Copier’s performance is strong enough that Miss Marple is the only character who feels like a real human being. It seems simple, but Copier is one of the few actors who actually listens to her scene partners before reacting to them. She makes eye contact. It does not feel like she is doing everything in her power to perform for laughs and nothing else; she reacts genuinely. Her subtle movements and genuine connecting efforts to her fellow cast members makes her incredibly engaging to watch.
In contrast, the performance from most of the rest of the cast made me incredibly bored throughout the production because I did not feel like I was watching real human beings. In her director’s note, Addie Holman quotes Agatha Christie, saying, “very few of us are what we seem,” but idea was taken to the extreme. Almost all of the characters in the cast are lacking any believability in any scene, making it impossible for me to connect with them. While many characters in A Murder is Announced do have false identities, these revelations lose all of their satisfying shock value if the characters never felt real beforehand. The twists have no power if it was never possible to believe the reality the audience had been shown in the first place.
These actors are clearly talented; I just wanted them to give less heightened performances. As a whole, the performance from the cast feels a lot more like “acting” and not like real people acting on feelings and impulses. Marinda Maxfield as Letitia “Letty” Blacklock and Katie Plott as Julia Simmons feel more like they care about the prettiness of their words instead of connecting with the person they are talking to. James Boley’s portrayal of Inspector Craddock is filled with distracting vocal inflections and floaty movements that felt unrealistic. Blake London as Patrick Simmons also feels inauthentic in any of his character’s relationships (especially his sibling relationship), due to awkward eye contact and physicality choices, most notably in the first act.
One character I found pleasantly believable is Dora “Bunny” Bunner, portrayed by Hillary McChesney. Her wide eyes and slow reactions are endearing. I especially love her musical movements, and her subtle struggle with yarn had me laughing. Two other notable standouts for their believable, subtle reactions include Laryn Welch as Phillipa Haymes and Chad N. Wilburn as Sergeant Mellors. Welch speaks quietly and earnestly, commanding believability with her whispering. Mellors’s accent was stead and convincing, a welcomed change from the inconsistent accents among many members of the cast. Additionally, his statements and movements feel especially realistic and firm. When I found out during intermission that Mellors had a visual impairment, I was shocked and amazed at the actor’s incredible skill and performance even more.
Again, technically, this production of A Murder is Announced is lovely. I especially love how audience members can make their own predictions about the murder by putting stones into cups under the actor’s pictures during intermission. Lighting and sound cues called by stage manager Jadon Wall are flawless, contributing beautifully to the suspenseful moments in the show, which were my favorite.
But the pace of the show dragged, and it was hard to stay engaged with the disconnecting, slow pace of the production until Krislyn McBride popped on stage as Mitzi, a delightful burst of energy in almost all of her movements. Holman both struggles to keep the play moving and to emphasize to the most important plot details of the production (such as the main character’s names), leaving me lost and confused the majority of the evening.
It is important to remember that I did see this production on opening night. While I found the performances disappointing from the cast of A Murder is Announced at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, I believe it is possible for their performances to grow and improve over the course of the run. Once improvements are made, I am excited for this talented cast to pull audience members into this suspenseful, Agatha Christie classic, making them excited for more than just the death scenes.