By LIBBY MOTIKA
Circling the News Contributor
Agatha Christie is in the air. Our cultural tastes seem to run in the detective procedural genre these days, and Christie novels, plays and revivals pop up regularly. PBS has been airing a Christie marathon for the past several months on Sunday nights.
But, for Palisadians, Theatre Palisades is staging the real deal at Pierson Playhouse.
“Towards Zero,” adapted by Christie and Gerald Verner from her 1944 novel, has the familiar set up, following Aristotle’s Poetics, that require a play to have a single action represented as occurring in a single place and within the course of a day, all adding up to compressed action and claustrophobic tension.
Lady Tressilian (Maria O’Connor), an elderly woman living with her caretaker Mary (I. Marelle Camel) in a house on the coast of Cornwall, England, has invited a group of her friends for a fortnight stay.
Included are her ward Nevile Strange (Davern Wright)–who has insisted on inviting both his ex-wife Audrey (Shannon Woo) and his current wife Kay (Cara Kluver)–and her long-time family friend Thomas Royde (Brendan Serapiglia).
Guests invited for the evening–retired judge Matthew Treves (Bob Rodriguez) and Kay’s longtime pal Ted Latimer (Steven G. Frankenfield)—round out the complement in attendance.
Unlike other murder mysteries that take off when a murder has occurred, “Towards Zero” takes its time, establishing the subplots and exploring the psychology of each of these characters and what their purpose is in the plot. Christie takes a lot of time to build up to the exciting part, and many of the subplots don’t necessarily fit or go anywhere.
This will prove to be a memorable night for all concerned–especially when Lady Tressilian is found brutally murdered in her bed.
Speculations abound about possible suspects. What about the puzzling curious dynamic between tennis pro Nevile Strange and his two wives? The story goes that Nevile left Audrey for the younger Kay, after she pursued him.
In unwinding her characters, Christie allows us to speculate for ourselves who the murderer might be.
At this point, we are aided not by Miss Marple or Poirot, but by the capable Superintendent Battle (Chris Aruffo) and Inspector Leach (Riley Introcaso). These good detectives are able to wade through all the red herrings to get to the culprit.
The production is suitable for a Christie thriller, from the feel and look of Sherman Wayne’s drawing room, to Catelin Pereira’s costumes and Wayne’s lighting design.
Hats off to the cast for holding consistent British accents. Director Hahnah Jackson manages the many moving pieces and plot threads, which the performers do an excellent job in conveying to the audience.
If you’re ready to don your sleuth gloves, go see “Towards Zero.” The play continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through December 10 at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. Visit theatrepalisades.org.