Agatha Christie, the queen of whodunits, wrote Appointment With Death as a murder-mystery novel featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. With its adaptation into a play, the detective is removed, leaving the remaining characters to solve the mystery in a more democratic fashion.
Plaza Playhouse Theater of Carpinteria will perform Appointment With Death, which opened Friday night, again this Saturday and Sunday and Sept. 21-23. Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 p.m., and Sunday shows start at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors. Click here to order tickets online.
Set in 1940s Jerusalem, the play opens with a diverse group of travelers congregating at the elegant King Solomon Hotel. A young English woman doctor, a dapper French psychiatrist, a beautiful Italian woman, a pair of middle-aged English women — one officious and one timid — and a tart-tongued Lancashire alderman converge with an ailing but tyrannical American matriarch and her stepchildren, along with the oldest son’s wife and a family friend who has long carried a torch for her.
As the other guests begin to see the twisted dynamic of this very “devoted” family, they feel concern. A new romance begins to blossom, and when they all undertake a multiday excursion together, the tension builds, dark secrets deepening. It seems someone has an appointment — with death — that must be kept.
In the able hands of veteran local director Jim Sirianni, this production is in turn humorous, chilling, romantic and satisfying. The large ensemble cast plays off each other well, and the staging is well-coordinated, with many comings and goings — no easy task.
Several stand-out actors must be mentioned. Grant McKee as Alderman Higgs carries off a flawless Lancashire accent and brings great comic flair to his no-nonsense character. Alyssa Hadfield also masters an English accent — young Dr. Sarah King’s softer, upper-class variety — and plays this bright, inquisitive character with great assurance. Leslie Ann Story lends another dollop of comedy with her portrayal of the overbearing Lady Westholme, perpetually at odds with Mr. Higgs.
Another thorn in her side is the Dragoman, played by Morris Danhi. The ever-suffering Arab servant in their traveler’s camp plagues her with the insistence that his name is not Mohammed. Danhi is relatively new to theater, and shows great promise in this character role, with deadpan delivery of his comic lines.
Seanna Moens does a wonderful job with the role of Ginevra, the youngest child of the family. Edging on madness, Ginevra darts about the stage in the grips of her manic delusions. Moens’ physicality brings an empathy and depth to the character that is quite effective.
Just off the main drag of Carpinteria, the charming Plaza Playhouse, 4916 Carpinteria Ave., has undergone a graceful transformation from cinema to community theater. Popcorn and candy are available, as well as wine and beer. This appointment — for an enjoyable evening of theater — is one I recommend keeping.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.