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THEATER REVIEW : A Stylistic Tear in Christie’s ‘Web’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The real mystery in Agatha Christie plays, at least to some directors, is style.

The style has not been completely solved by director Hugh Harrison in Long Beach Playhouse’s production of Christie’s “Spider’s Web.”

Too often, Americans, when doing British plays, depend on stereotypes for their models, and their choices aren’t always the most reliable. Christie writes about the upper class of her day, and one has to remember that even when they are titled, her characters are very real people. They are never cartoons.

For the good of this production, two of the more prominent characters look right at home in Phil Lubman’s appropriate and fairly authentic county manor sitting room/dining room setting.

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Stephanie Moffett gives a colorful and charming performance as Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, the lady of the manor, who discovers a body behind her sofa and makes up a string of tall tales to explain it. She’s bright and true and often quite funny.

As the crafty Scotland Yard inspector who tries to sort out her ever-changing alibis about what happened, Steven Jay Warner practically steals the show with his subtlety, his twinkling sense of humor, and his understanding of the period and the genre.

Hal Edwards does very well in a sketchily written role as Clarissa’s uncle, and Paul Teschke just barely misses going overboard as a Colonel Blimpish friend. Tim Jarvis, as a young man paying court to Clarissa, is a little too “Tennis, anyone?” for his own good, even if he is trying to hide a deep secret, and James Rice is simply stodgy as her husband.

Andrea Dotson is fine as the very young daughter who claims to be the culprit, and Jeff Lappin is appropriately menacing before he becomes the body behind the sofa.

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*

Sandy Hall’s Miss Peake, a gardener who isn’t what she says, is within the bounds of reality, except when she’s walking and her arms shoot back and forth like pistons in an overheated engine. The same affliction makes even more ludicrous the silly characterization Sean Melton gives the bobby who helps the inspector. And though Eleanor Armstrong has the right silent menace for the butler’s mother, Bob Bancroft as the butler is allowed to walk zombie-like through his scenes making faces.

Harrison doesn’t trust the script and has tried to make this charming little mystery comedy even funnier by sight gags, when reality is all it needs.

* “Spider’s Web,” Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Matinees on Sunday, Jan. 22 and Feb. 12, 2 p.m. $10. (714) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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Hal Edwards: Sir Rowland Delahaye

Paul Teschke: Hugo Birch

Tim Jarvis: Jeremy Warrender

Stephanie Moffett: Clarissa Hailsham-Brown

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Andrea Dotson: Pippa Hailsham-Brown

Sandy Hall: Mildred Peake

Bob Bancroft: Elgin

Eleanor Armstrong: Mrs. Elgin

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Jeff Lappin: Oliver Costello

James Rice: Henry Hailsham-Brown

Steven Jay Warner: Inspector Lord

Sean Melton: Constable Jones

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A Long Beach Playhouse production of Agatha Christie’s mystery comedy. Directed by Hugh Harrison. Scenic design: Phil Lubman. Lighting design: Steven Jay Warner. Costumes: Donna Frische. Stage manager: Chris Barton.


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