I’ll get right to the point quickly – The Unexpected Guest at The Colonial Players in Annapolis, MI has sloppy direction, careless technical elements, and deadpan, under-rehearsed acting. Fortunately, two young actors (Ethan Goldberg and Justin Truesdale) try their their hardest to breathe some life into their characters in this otherwise lifeless production.
The Unexpected Guest is standard Agatha Christie; there is a murder, there is intrigue, the audience suspects every character in turn until the truth is revealed at the last minute. The murder victim’s brother Jan (Goldberg) is described as “What they call retarded” by the victim’s wife Laura (Shirley Panek). However, when Goldberg arrives on stage, he plays Jan with a child-like innocence and at times, is quite endearing. The real trouble begins (or rather, intensifies) during the second act when the characters begin to suspect Jan murdered his brother. The police inspector (Mark T. Allen) chides Laura for not putting Jan in an institution because “people like that” always become violent after a certain age. The victim’s wife, mother (Elizabeth McWilliams) and long time housekeeper (Jean Berard) all feel responsible for not institutionalizing Jan before he reached adulthood. Jan’s violent accidental death is seen as a relief; “It’s better this way” one character says. It is not just Goldberg’s characterization, but rather the text itself that shows that Jan’s developmental disability is relatively minor and, up until he is accused of murder, well-managed.
The direction was basically non-existent, a cardinal sin in an in-the-round space. I spent most of the play watching the backs of characters sitting in couches and at desks. Actors frequently flubbed lines, sometimes called characters by multiple wrong names, and sounded as if they had no idea what their lines meant.
There were, happily, some exceptions: Jean Berard, who was powerful and crisp as the no-nonsense housekeeper; Ethan Goldberg who did all that could be done to soften the blow of a terribly-written part, and Justin Truesdale, who, as Sgt. Caldwallader, was funny, charming, and whose Irish accent was consistent, despite his character being Welsh and the play taking place in Wales (however, I lay this mistake at the feet of the dialect coach, BettyAnn Leeseburg-Lange, and do not blame the actors).
There’s no mystery here – this production’s many problems need to be solved quickly.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45, with a 15 minute intermission.
The Unexpected Guest plays through October 8th at The Colonial Players – 108 East St., in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call their box office (410) 268-7373, or purchase tickets online.