Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 2:17 am | Fog/Mist 52º


Gerald Carpenter: Agatha Christie Whodunit to Play at Santa Paula Theater Center

Starting June 24 and running through July 31, the Santa Paula Theater Center will offer a new production of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest.

Starring Morgan Bozarth, Olivia Donnelly, Andrew Garrett, Linda MacNeal, Elixeo Flores, Scott Blanchard, Aaron Strange, Doug Friedlander and Ronald Rezac, the show will be directed by Fred Helsel, with costumes by Barbara Pedziwiatr and lighting by Gary Richardson.

An open-source summary of the plot, or at least the situation, of The Unexpected Guest, is as follows:

“On a foggy night, Michael Starkwedder enters the home of the Warwicks through a window in the study. He finds the dead body of Richard Warwick, and finds Warwick’s wife, Laura, holding a gun that supposedly killed him. Despite the murder being obvious, and overwhelming evidence pointing towards it, Starkwedder does not believe she killed him, and she soon tells him she’s innocent. The two decide to place the blame on an enemy from the past, MacGregor, a man whose son was run over by Richard while he was drunk. As the story progresses, the two fake the fact that they were just finding out about the murder, and others in the house are introduced. It is revealed Laura was having an affair due to Richard’s cruel nature, and was vouching for the man she was cheating with when she claimed to have killed Richard. But there are other suspects as well – Warwick’s mother, his simple half-brother, the sinister Angell, or the apparently goody-goody Miss Bennett.”

Since the first time we see Starkwedder, apparently the hero, he is using the burglar’s entrance to a stranger’s house, part of what we are to learn in the play, aside from who killed Warwick, is what the hell he was up to.

His immediate acceptance of Laura’s innocence completely inverts the dynamic of the two leads of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, (where the woman Richard Hannay has to drag along with him on his quest to prove his innocence continues to be convinced of his guilt through most of the picture), and casts further doubt on Starkwedder’s motives and intentions.

Then, there are the other suspects — i.e., the remainder of the cast — whom we consider one by one: “there is an ingenious display of suspects,” wrote one of the original reviewers, “as if lids were being taken off wells of depravity and hastily put back.”

Another first night review said the play “kept last night’s audience at the Duchess Theatre in a state of stunned uncertainty; guessing wrongly to the last.”

Agatha Christie is not only the best-selling novelist of all time — two billion copies sold, and counting — and the world’s most-translated author, she is also the author of the longest-running play in history, The Mousetrap, which opened in the West End of London in 1952 and is still running (its 25,000 performance took place Nov. 18, 2012).

I’d be willing to bet that she is also the BBC’s most-adapted author, with the spinster church lady Jane Marple and the prissy Belgian fussbudget Hercule Poirot ranking high among the most widely recognized fictional characters ever.

Clearly, Christie was an exceptional human being, with a gift for elegant and amusing story-telling that amounted to a supernatural power.

One aspect of her unique flair for mystery is that her endings — the revelations — seem to have been written in invisible ink.

A month or so after you have read or seen one of her tales, your ready to see or read it again, with total satisfaction. It’s like the ad for Men in Black: “Get neuralized, and see it again for the first time.”

The Unexpected Guest plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays from June 24 to July 31.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, $15 for children under the age of 12.

For reservations, call the Santa Paula Theater Center box office at 805.525.4645 or visit

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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