Left - Right: Valerie Weak, Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION by Agatha Christie, directed by Michael Butler. Center REPertory Company 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. Call 925-943-7469 or . October 23 - November 21, 2009


An oft repeated dictum concerning murder mysteries is “The butler did it.” Happily in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution there is no butler and thus it will be necessary for you to attend Center Rep’s entertaining production to solve the mystery. It is no mystery that director Michael Butler directs with broad strokes and he has done it again with this beautifully mounted production. When you do attend and recommend the play to others, please do not reveal the ending which is an unexpected shocker.

The play adapted from an Agatha Christie short story, appeared on London’s West End in 1953 and on Broadway a year later. It enjoyed great success being made into a movie with Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich. Its TV reincarnation was equally blessed with, amongst others, Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges and Diana Rigg. Center Rep has rounded up local luminaries Mark Anderson Phillips, Alex Moggridge, Mark Farrell, and Carie Paff for the major roles and they do no disappoint.

Charismatic Leonard Vole (Alex Moggridge) is accused of murdering a wealthy older woman and hires a noted and successful barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts Q.C. (Mark Anderson Phillips) to defend him. All the available clues point to Vole as the killer and only his German wife Romaine (Carrie Paff) can and initially does provide an alibi. Act one sets up the details of the murder, defines the character of players leaving a strong suggestion that the trial may produce surprises.

The beautiful elegant wood paneled office set (J. B. Wilson) smoothly rotates from view for act two and the trial begins in a Criminal court of the Old Bailey. Prosecuting barrister Mr. Myers, Q.C. (Mark Farrell) opens his case with the arresting officer Inspector Hearne (Floyd Harden) followed by police surgeon Dr. Wyatt (John Hetzler) and later housekeeper Janet McKenzie (Tamar Cohn). Although their testimony is damaging to Vol, the brilliant cross-examination by Sir Wilfrid casts serious doubt on their testimony. The startling first surprise is that prosecutor Myers brings in Romaine as a witness for the prosecution (hence the title). Wives cannot testify against their husbands and it is shown that she is still married to another man thus nullifying her marriage to Vol. When all seems lost for a possible acquittal, Christie throws in another character to complicate the plot before the dramatic ending.

Phillips and Farrell carry most of the dialog and their battle in court sparkles. It is Carrie Paff who earns top honors for her dynamic performance giving her character(s) depth and personality. Maryssa Wanlass as Greta, the secretary, adds the needed touch of humor to break the ice in a staid barrister’s office. She is a perfect foil for tall, elegant John Hetzler whose physical appearance and demeanor are perfect, typifying an uptight pompous Britisher. Tamar Cohn as the Cockney housekeeper gives a frenetic try but does not quite reach the level to be a show stopper. One would wish that Agatha gave more lines to the presiding judge played by gentle, clever Ken Ruta who milks the role for maximum effect.

Butler is to be admired for adroitly controlling a 20 member cast, never allowing the action to sag and precisely putting the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together while giving the minor characters their due as they strut their minutes upon the stage.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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