Little Theatre of Alexandria Witness for the ProsecutionBy Bob Ashby • Apr 25th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Little Theatre of Alexandria
Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria, VA
Through May 12th
2:55 with one intermission
Reviewed April 21st, 2012
The word for Little Theater of Alexandria’s production of the venerable Agatha Christie courtroom drama/mystery Witness for the Prosecution is “polished.” In this British play, the accents are consistent and impeccable. The diction is crystal-clear, with actors nailing final consonants in a way that would make the most finicky Gilbert and Sullivan fan proud. There are two realistic sets: a barrister’s office and a courtroom, both of which are richly detailed, appropriately colored and dressed, and without noticeable flaws.
Based on a 1928 short story, which Christie reworked for the stage in 1953 (and which was made into a successful movie in 1957), the script is not one that asks the audience to become emotionally involved with its characters. Over its considerable length (by my watch, five minutes longer than Arena Stage’s current Long Day’s Journey Into Night), what the script relies upon to keep the audience’s interest are plot devices and courtroom pyrotechnics. In the best whodunit tradition, Christie saves the evening’s climatic twist for the end of the show, after the trial has concluded.
Defendant Leonard Vole (Russell Silber) poses two main problems for barrister Wilfred Robarts (Mark Lee Adams). First, did he really kill the elderly Emily French in order to inherit her fortune? Second, whether or not Vole was the killer, how does he defend a client who looks very guilty and is given to self-incriminating outbursts besides? Christie provides a hint about the answer to the first question by naming the defendant after a rodent. But, unflappable defense counsel that he is, Robarts finds plenty of holes in the prosecution’s case to exploit in the search for reasonable doubt.
Adams comfortably inhabits the role of the experienced, well-established barrister, who knows how the game is played and believes that he has seen it all. He is, however, thoroughly vexed by the defendant’s wife, Romaine (Robin Zerbe), a seemingly cold, unemotional spouse who, for reasons unclear to Robarts, turns up as the eponymous witness for the prosecution, shredding her husband’s alibi in the process. Zerbe plays the enigmatic nature of her character ably, maintaining her mystery until the final reveal.
Much of the second act consists courtroom jousting between Robarts and Myers, the prosecuting attorney (James McDaniel). McDaniel’s Myers is a harrumphing, blustery fellow, who clearly has about the same chance of besting Robarts in court as Hamilton Burger had against Perry Mason. Two bits of cross-examination bear mention, for different reasons. Robart’s questioning of the victim’s housekeeper, Janet McKenzie (Carol Sinsabaugh), brings out the self-interestedness of McKenzie’s testimony against Vole, while allowing McKenzie to get some of her own back by catching Robarts at violating one of the prime rules of cross-examination: never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. Sinsabaugh’s one-scene character role is the production’s highlight. On the other hand, Myers’ questioning of Vole is memorable for becoming an excessively over-the-top, scenery-chewing yelling contest, far beyond the limits of even fictional courtroom decorum.
The play calls for a large cast. Of the smaller roles, John Barclay Burns as Mayhew, Vole’s solicitor, is an understated, appropriately deferential second chair to Robarts during the trial. Jeffrey Clarke, as the judge, presides wryly over the lawyers’ and witnesses’ antics.
All the technical aspects of the productions are handled capably, with the exception of the rather loud sport coat that Vole wears in court. No defense counsel with his salt would allow his client to wear such a thing when on trial for his life.
As the frequent film and PBS versions of Agatha Christie stories demonstrate, an audience remains for the well-made, genteel British mystery. People who enjoy tuning into the exploits of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot will enjoy LTA’s take on Witness for the Prosecution.
Welcome to today’s performance of Witness for the Prosecution. Agatha Christie was England’s greatest “whodunit” crime writer, and her traditional style plays to perfection in Witness for the Prosecution.
On Dec. 17, 1957, the highly popular movie version, directed by Billy Wilder, was released. The cast included three of that era’s biggest stars. Tyrone Power (Leonard Vole). Marlene Dietrich (Romaine), and Charles Laughton (Sir Wilfred).
The English court system of the 1950s and even today is somewhat different from the American setting we are all accustomed to. The courtroom scenes take place in the Old Bailey, also known as Justice Hall, the Sessions House and the Central Criminal Court, located in the western part of the city of London. Although the Old Bailey courthouse was rebuilt several times between 1674 and 1913, the basic design of the courthouse has remained the same. They have been rebuilt in a style that reflected and influenced the changing ways in which trials were carried out.
I invite each of you to assume the role of the jury in this trial. Of course you won’t be able to resist the opportunity to play detective with all of the action on stage. Perhaps you will be challenged by the twists and turns of these fascinating characters. It is my hope that in the end, you will crave a resolution to what has confused you throughout the story. Feel free to choose your own path. Who knows? Maybe you will make all of the right turns and receive the title of Chief Inspector.
Photos by Doug Olmsted
- Greta: Elisabeth Richters
- Mr. Carter: Joseph Le Blanc
- Mr. Mayhew: John Barclay Burns
- Leonard Vole: Russell Silber
- Sir Wilfred Robarts, Q.C.: Mark Lee Adams
- Detective Inspector Hearne: Peter Alden Hyde
- Detective/Policeman: Robert Ford
- Romaine: Robin Zerbe
- Justice Wainwright: Jeffrey Clarke
- Barristers: John Johnson, Bruce Schmid
- Clerk of the Court/Voice of Foreman: Dan Beck
- Court Stenographer: Raedun Knutsen
- Court Warder: Sam Sheinberg
- Voice of Woman Juror: Carol Strachan
- Mr. Myers, Q.C.: James McDaniel
- Dr. Wyatt: Larry Grey
- Janet McKenzie: Cheryl Sinsabaugh
- Mr. Clegg: Terry Gish
- The Other Woman: Rosemary Wallace
- Girl: Tabitha Rymal-Vaughn
- Producers: Richard Schwab, Carlol Strachan
- Director: Eddie Page
- Assistant to the Director: Susie Poole
- Stage Manager: Charles Dragonette, Margaret Evens-Joyce
- Set Design and Construction: John Downing
- Assisted by: Ed Broyles, David Doll, Chris Feldmann, Jeff Gathers, Jim Hutzler, Regina Johnson, Robert Kraus, Randy Leicher, Jeff Nesmeyer, Barry Norman, One Brick, Richard Schwab, P. Spencer Tomney
- Lighting Design: Nancy Owens
- Assisted by: Mary Abahazay, David Doll, Jim Hartz, Kira Hogan, Pam Leonowich, Michael O’Connor, Liz Owens, Doug Olmsted, Jayn Rife, Sherry Singer
- Costume Design: Susan Boyd
- Sound Design: David Correia
- Assisted By: Keith Bell, Sean Doyle, Anna Hawkins, David Rampy, Bill Rinehuls
- Set Painting: Deidre (De) Nicholson-Lamb
- Assisted By: Bobbie Herbst, Eddy Roger Parker, Leslie Reed, Jayn Rife, Bruce Schmid, Hannah Wolf
- Set Decoration: Nancyanne Burton, Allen and Jean Stuhl
- Master Electrician: Eileen Doherty
- Property Designer: Ceci Albert
- Assisted by: Betty Dolan, Rebecca Johnson, Leslie Reed, Jayn Rife
- Wardrobe: Margaret Snow
- Assisted by: Regina Johnson, Annie Vroom, Nicole Zuchetto
- Wig Design: Bette Williams
- Makeup Design: Robin Parker
- Assisted by: Mary Lou Bruno
- Accent Coach: Carol Strachan
- Stage Combat Choreographer: Steve Lada
- Rigging: Russell Wyland
- Master Electrician: Liz Owens
- Lights Running Crew: Adam Wallace
- Photographer: Doug Olmsted
- Audition Table: Susan Boyd, Bobbie Herbst, Bruce Schmid
- Audition Photographer: Doug Olmsted
- Double Tech Dinner: Genie Baskir
- Assisted by: Emma and Geoff Baskir
- Opening Night Party: Daniel Froggett, Tammy Semega
- Assisted by: Leslie Buckles, David Doll, Robert Kraus, Virginia Lacy, Michael Page, Eddy Roger Parker
Disclaimer: Little Theatre of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. Actor Mark Lee Adams is also a writer for ShowBizradio, which did not affect the opinion given in this article.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7925.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.