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THEATER REVIEW : A Tiresome 'Unexpected Guest' : 2 Lively Performances Can't Rouse This Ho-Hum Whodunit in Long Beach

January 20, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — "The Unexpected Guest" is not one of Agatha Christie's more gripping plays. Despite a ready corpse, it takes a while to get going; it's a slow train chugging up whodunit hill.

The ride seems especially long at the Long Beach Playhouse, where director Michael David Fox keeps pulling back on the throttle. The deliberate-to-tardy pacing hardly complements the mystery, which has more talk and less wit than any of Christie's other solve-the-puzzle adventures.

The production, at the Playhouse's Mainstage Theatre, does get some needed propulsion from a couple of actors. Allen Moon doesn't make his appearance until the first act is almost over, but better late than never. As the half-brother of the murdered Richard Warwick (Rick Buckley), Moon brings a gleeful rambunctious quality to the proceedings.

Dan Renkin, as a Keats-loving bohemian of a police sergeant, also provides a welcome blast of enthusiasm. He's funny and energetic--adjectives that rarely can be applied to the rest of this cast.

At the center of the muted mayhem are Michael Starkwedder (Gary Page), who just happens to stumble on the murder at the play's start, and pretty Laura Warwick (Natasha Witkin), a bitter wife quick to confess to the killing of her husband. Starkwedder, not the brainiest of unexpected guests, decides to help her, even with the noose hanging nearby.

Lurking about is Julian (Ron Graham), Laura's lover, and a host of other odd folks who muddy the waters on our way to figuring out who the real murderer is. Page, Witkin and Graham are competent but not colorful enough to maintain our interest as the somewhat Byzantine plot develops.

*

Technically, the production looks a bit budget-minded for the Long Beach Playhouse, which has offered some impressive stagings recently. Steven Jay Warner's set of the Warrick estate is passable, but it's more what you'd expect from a smaller community theater. We really don't get a sense of the musty opulence of the place, although the study leading to the foggy grounds is effectively moody.

Lonnie Alcaraz's shadowy lighting is appropriately mysterious. But Ann Curry's costumes, although they try to evoke the period, look a tad slapdash.

* "The Unexpected Guest," Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Jan. 23 and Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 19. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours.

Rick Buckley: Richard Warwick

Natasha Witkin: Laura Warwick

Gary Page: Michael Starkwedder

Alessandra Katarina Djurklou: Miss Bennett

Allen Moon: Jan Warwick

Corinne Williams: Mrs. Warwick

Pattric Walker: Angel

Dan Renkin: Sgt. Cadwallader

Jerome Loeb: Inspector Thomas

Ron Graham: Julian Farrar

A Long Beach Playhouse production of a play by Agatha Christie, directed by Michael David Fox. Set by Steven Jay Warner. Lighting by Lonnie Alcaraz. Sound by Gilbert Solorzano. Costumes by Ann Curry.

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