REVIEW: Characters shine in Christie classic

Spider’s Web/Theater Barn/New Lebanon

ABE PHELPS’ SET has intense, dark green walls and wainscoting dotted with red plush side chairs. It suggests right away that the evening may deliver impact along with familiar Agatha Christie comforts. And it does. Mostly.

For a while, audience brains are engaged in filing away the web data that rat-a-tats from the stage (no, not that kind of data–the spider’s kind–the plot kind). But eventually, under the care of charming Melissa Macleod Herion as Clarissa, endearing John Trainor as Sir Rowland and keen, importuning John Philip Cromie as the investigating officer, characters come shining through.

 

Herion gives Clarissa all the confident energy of an attractive woman who has always dominated relationships with her quick mind and well-honed feminine wiles, even though, in some scenes, she teeters on “cutesy.” Fortunately, she never quite tips over. Herion is altogether engaging and funny.

As usual, Trainor makes one completely forget that this is an actor portraying a character. Sir Rowland simply is, warmly and easily existing–while nailing all his laughs. He even soldiers through a silly scene about invisible writing without any obvious discomfort.

Cromie is a smart, attractive, convincing Inspector Lord.

These three are supported by some other good performances and nice, clean staging by Allen Phelps. It is open to question whether or not Phelps could have helped some of the supporting actors more.

He makes knowing use of the wide, shallow stage, though sometimes conversations seem unnaturally wide-spaced. He clarifies the complicated relationships and plot-webbing, and the occasional music is well-chosen.

A small, firmly packed Kathleen Carey is the whacky Miss Peake, who morphs into the more subdued Mrs. Brown. My theater companion and I liked her both ways. We came to look forward to her half-hysterical laughing exits.

Jason Tamborini is perfect in the small role of Constable Jones. He is subtly understated and very funny.

Some others don’t quite meet the standard thus set. Joe Antoun as Hugo needs energy. Kaitlin S. Pearson as Pippa is convincingly neurotic, but (like most teenagers) needs more speech clarity and, now and then, a slower-paced delivery. Richard Lounello as Henry is poorly cast as a high-level Foreign Service officer, and Casey Preston as Jeremy needs to get the golf ball out of his mouth.

Theater Barn audiences look forward to their annual Christie-fix, and this production of Spider’s Web is basically nice, summertime fare. It runs through July 25, and seats may be reserved by telephone at (518) 794-8989.

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