HUNTINGTON BEACH — The Summer MysteryFest is underway again in Golden West College's outdoor Patio Theater, opening with Agatha Christie's "A Murder Is Announced."
Actually, the script was not written by the great Dame, but "adapted for the stage" by Leslie Darbon. And adapted it certainly has been--from a tale of intrigue into a tepid parlor game.
Darbon's script is as flat as the case file of a lazy detective. There are no interesting subplots to beef up the action, no romantic entanglements to spice the scenes, just a plain porridge of whodunit with the obligatory clues laid on the table at regular intervals.
Charles Mitchell's direction does little to improve the fare. Pacing is far from electric. Interpersonal relationships are monochromatic. Blocking relies heavily upon the five chairs and sofa that ring Charles Davis' characterless set.
The reigning sensibility about British country life seems to be that people come downstairs to the common room and sit around being proper. With a daily routine like that, it's no wonder they are murdering each other.
The abilities of the actors are as varied as their accents, which range over territory distinctly foreign, if seldom recognizably British.
They are led by Sara St. James, who, to her credit, has the bearing and elegance of a lady, even though her charm is seriously stunted by a lack of humor. Still, her iron smile and actress' flair help to hold things together.
Winifred Warga has a wonderfully pugnacious look as Miss Marple, and Nancy Stewart Douglas is lively and amusing as the nosy neighbor, Mrs. Swettenham.
But the evening definitely belongs to Lisa Klubniken as the Romanian cook, Mitzi. Klubniken provides a welcome comic flavor with her grandiose sufferance of those foolish English people, expressed in accents decidedly Slavik and unabashedly broad.
As in past seasons, audience members are encouraged to cast a vote for the murderer of their choice, and 66 people actually guessed correctly Saturday night. That feat was all the more remarkable given that the suspect in question did not actually do what the script states the character did.
There is so much ambient light in the outdoor theater that, had the killer really executed the moves necessary to accomplish the murder as the script prescribes, everyone would have seen it and the mystery would have been undone.
Instead, the action is not carried out, but it is talked about as if it had been.
Maybe Dame Christie ought to be listed among the victims.
\o7 *"A Murder Is Announced," Golden West College Summer Patio Theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Friday\f7 s-\o7 Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Ends July 10. $10. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes.\f7