Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 1999
If you really love murder mysteries in general or Agatha Christie and her Miss Marple in particular, I suppose you might enjoy this show. All I could see was a play long past its prime featuring performances barely worthy of a high school production. I could have cared less who had murdered who and why.
The first problem really is this script. You learn so little in the first act that there is no suspense. You never meet or see the face of the murder victim, who is a very minor cog in the wheel of this story. And, as the title suggests, the first murder is "announced" - the killer literally takes out an ad in the local paper announcing the date, time and place of the crime. So the clock strikes 6:30 PM on Friday the 13th, the lights go out and bang-bang. When the lights come up the guy who is about to play the policeman in the next scene (this is his big dual role) is lying on the floor behind the sofa. Big excitment.
But there might be some excitment along the way if the actors bothered to create characters we knew and cared about. With the exception of Sophie Warren who plays dotty old Dora Bunner aka Bunny, John Trainor who makes a good living playing police detectives, and Brian Plouffe in the minor role of Edmund Swettenham, everyone just stands around looking shifty and waiting for their line. When you have eight people on the stage those cues are few and far between, why bother acting when you might miss a cue and screw up the whole plot?
Another big problem here is that "Murder She Wrote" brought this exact variety of small town murder mysteries into our homes with grace and wit for over a decade. Sure, the writers and producers of "Murder She Wrote" stole Christie's Miss Marple and created in Angela Lansbury her American doppelganger Jessica Fletcher, but if this play is any indication of some of Christie's minor work for the stage, Jessica and the gang on this side of the pond did it better.
And speaking of sides of the pond, this cast boasted by far the feeblest collection of British accents (and lack thereof) that I have been privileged to hear this season (and this has been a season of Americans struggling with foreign accents.) In fact, I think half the cast thought they were supposed to be Americans and the other half had only a vague idea of that they were supposed to be British and what they were supposed to sound like. Patricia Giffune as the Hungarian maid Mitzi made a valiant attempt at her accent, but failed. Perhaps a few evenings of listening to Eva Gabor on reruns of "Green Acres" would have helped?
I suppose, given the limitations of the script and the cast, that what might have saved this show was some innovative direction on a really boffo set. Director Allen E. Phelps merely manages to arrange his actors in static pictures on Jay Ennis' predictable set. The Theater Barn 1999 flyer bills this show as a "Christie comedy". I guess Phelps doesn't read his own press because he completely missed any real chance at making this play anything but dull.
"A Murder is Announced" runs through July 25 at the The Theater Barn on Route 20 on New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999