Wednesday, April 1, 2015

review - WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION - Desert Stages Theatre

Dave Ray, Blaine Waters, Hal Bliss, and
Mary Helen Labadie
For more information on this production, that runs through May 17th, click here

"The old adage that "the show must go on" was proven over the weekend with Desert Stages Theatre's production of Witness for the Prosecution. When the main actor had to withdraw from the show just days before it was set to open, it could have resulted in disaster. Yet director Jere Van Patten pulled his cast together, bumped a supporting cast member up to the lead, and the end result is a fun and suspenseful production of this well-crafted whodunit with some crackerjack performances and a nifty creative design.  Agatha Christie's classic play focuses on soft-spoken Leonard Vole who has been arrested for the murder of Emily French. French just recently changed her will to make Vole her principal heir. But the biggest obstacle for Vole is his calculating wife Romaine, who is his only alibi for the time when the murder took place. Will she end up as a witness to help defend Vole, or a witness for the prosecution? While Christie's play is a little slow going in the beginning, as multiple characters and plot points are introduced, it quickly turns into a parade of fun character cameo parts when the many witnesses take the stand. It is also chock full of twists and turns that last until the final moments of the play. Leading DST's more than capable cast is Todd Sloan as Vole's defense attorney, Sir Wilfrid Robarts. You would have no idea that Sloan just took over this role a few days before opening night, based on how well honed his performance is. Sloan's Sir Wilfrid is a calming presence ss he treats Vole with respect and care yet also shows his ability to lash out in the courtroom with his forceful, yet professional, cross examinations of the witnesses. Sloan is giving a very good performance, as is Mary Helen Labadie as the aloof and clever Romaine. She appears to relish playing this devious role, and the joy she brings to Romaine's scheming ways washes over into the audience every time she is on stage. Director Van Patten manages well rounded performances from his cast. While there are just a couple of moments when a character or two are a bit over the top in their delivery, it never detracts from the excitement of Christie's cleverly crafted plot. With dialect coach Diane Senffner's assistance, the whole cast achieves an assortment of English accents and characters with ease. Van Patten has opted to stage the entire production in black and white, an homage to film noir and the "black and white" references to guilt and innocence, and it works beautifully, almost as if you're watching a classic film come to life in front of you. Well written murder mystery plays like this one don't seem to get produced much anymore. It's a shame, as so many hit "procedural" TV shows like "CSI," "NCIS," and "Criminal Minds" owe a huge debt to Christie and other mystery writers who basically created the genre. So, it's a good thing that Desert Stages is not only presenting this classic whodunit but that they have also have an exceptional cast under Van Patten's fine direction to breathe plenty of life into this old chestnut." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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