Agatha Christie's talent for ingenious twists was never sharper than in "Witness for the Prosecution," and for devotees of the mystery genre, the surprise ending is probably worth wading through her stage adaptation.
But in dramatic terms, the play's creaky construction and endless exposition make for very slow going, and Robert Craig's staging for Pasadena's Knightsbridge Theatre is further hampered by uneven casting and awkward blocking.
Nevertheless, it's a showcase for Rhonda Richards' versatility in the title role. As the supposedly devoted German wife of a likable young man accused of murder, she runs the gamut from icy poise to sinister betrayal to self-destructive passion. Her beleaguered spouse (Glenn Richards) consistently enlists our sympathies and sports a better English accent than most of the cast--somewhat unfortunate, as his character is supposed to be an American.
His attorney and champion, Sir Wilfred Robards (Christian Noble), is a poor foil for Richards. Bereft of the dazzling insight or eccentricity that distinguish so many sleuths, he makes us sorely appreciate the liberties taken with the character in Billy Wilder's 1957 film version, which remains the better bet.
* "Witness for the Prosecution," Knightsbridge Theatre, 35 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Fridays, 7 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark this Sunday and Dec. 31. Ends Jan. 14. $15. (818) 440-0821. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.