THEATER REVIEW: Cast scores high marks in Christie’s ‘Towards Zero’

“Towards Zero” / The Theater Barn

OLD ACTORS KNOW how few casting calls ask for old actors in leading roles—or for anyone over 37, for that matter. (Who could be of leading-player interest after age 37?) But Agatha Christie was a smart cookie-maker. She was never afraid to give us a number of clever, delicious oldsters–whole-baked, a bit nutty and only slightly crumbled.

There are three of them in “Towards Zero”: Lady Trissilian (at the Theater Barn, played by Joan Coombs), Mathew Treves (John M. Trainor) and Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Battle (Phil Rice).

Coombs has come down with a serious case of speed-speak, but somehow gets out her short-lived crusty character. The two men, Trainor and Rice, thrust the play into high gear, especially Trainor, and even more especially in their scenes together. Rice has that unforced ease that arrives when talent and experience join up. Trainor is his usual excellent-actor self, comfortably stroking his belly like some wise Buddha while delivering the English language with clarity, and beauty.

The character of Neville Strange looks as if he is going to be a standard, gorgeous young leading man, but Andrew Colford grows and grows in the role until we (the audience) get how good he is. And few have “lost it” as convincingly as Colford does in his final scenes—abetted by director Chris Briante.

Fleece (yes, that’s her name) brings something original to the role of Lady Trissilian’s companion. I wish I could find the words for it. And Toby Wherry (as Thomas Royde), with his wrinkled shirt and unruly hair, is consistently interesting to watch.

Morgan Troia’s relentlessly flouncy/snotty choices for Neville’s second wife make the character seem more like an American Valley Girl than a mid-century English girl, especially one who has been adapted from a 1940s novel.

As Neville’s first wife, Audrey, Katrina Klein moves with an oddly robotic, leaning-back manner that left me scratching my head: Acting choice? Director’s choice? Or simply a pretty actress with a bad back? This kind of thing can drag an observer completely out of the play.

In a small role as an eager apprentice to the detective game, Andrew Pace is delightful. Yes, it’s true. This time the guys have it.

Abe Phelps’ set is the familiar British drawing room. It looks livable, comfortable and as if a real Brit might have gathered its art and furniture over many decades.

An Agatha Christie mystery will leave you sorting out its plotty details on the way home, which is part of the fun. Along with the murder (politely off-stage), there is the play’s decorum-drenched surface: tennis whites, glasses of sherry, and dressing for dinner. Missing and unmissed are the common modern fiction favorites that aren’t there: chases, explosions, aliens, vulgar language, trendy obscurity, and outrageous low comedy. There are just human beings trapped together in a house (the murderer among them!), engaged in events that must be cleverly unraveled.

How innovative can you get?

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