By Libby Motika
Palisades News Contributor
As with any Agatha Christie whodunit, there are as many likely perpetrators as alibis in The Hollow, now on stage at Pierson Playhouse through May 7. Predictably after nearly three hours of feints, the mystery is solved. But in the play, based on Christie’s 1946 novel, Poirot, Christie’s most famous and long-lived character, is absent.
The setup is formulaic. Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell have invited their mildly inbred English family members—where cousins often marry cousins—to a weekend at their titular estate in the country. Adding to the guest list are a few outliers, which naturally sets up multiple threads of intrigue.
Without the outsized charm of Poirot, the drama allows Christie time to delve more deeply into the characters’ back- ground, passions, fears and secrets.
Lady Lucy (Georgan George), because of her charming eccentricity, gives the play a lift, which it most certainly needs to keep it suitably engaging.
So, the murder, you ask? The first act introduces us to the guests, all possible suspects, and in particular to Dr. John Cristow (Drew Lowther), who on his first appearance comes off as a caustic, self-absorbed medical professional. In tow is his meek, subservient mouse of a wife, Gerda (Lezlie Moore).
We soon learn that this Lothario is juggling three women with nary a thought to the pain he causes. Men and women either love him or hate him, which sets up his fate bytheendofActI.
By Act II, John is discovered in a pool of blood with his wife standing over him with a revolver in her hand. It doesn’t look good for her . . . but, not so fast! Virtually all of the guests had means, motive and opportunity to commit the murder.
Scotland Yard inspector Colquhoun (Ken Bernfield) is called in to solve the murder. He and his assistant detective Sergeant Penny (Godwin Obeng), who abets the more procedural Colquhoun with the low-down from the servants, work their way through the suspect list.
Top of the list is Gerda, but equally suspicious is John’s mistress, the renowned sculptor Henrietta Angkatell (Tanya Gorlow). There is also the movie actress Veronica Craye (Tiana Randall-Quant), who was once engaged to the victim and reappears with an eye toward picking up where they left off.
Edward Angkatell (Frank Lillig) is a possibility, who tells Henrietta at one point, “If there were no John Cristow in the world, you would marry me.”
All of these speculations are set amidst the lavish Christie 1930s milieu, updated to 1951. Beyond the elegant house and very proper service, are the lavish gardens, woods and even a shooting range. Yes, The Hollow is unabashedly awash in guns, and apparently, everyone knows how to use them.
Theatre Palisades invites the audience to participate in the mystery by guessing whodunit and submitting their conjecture on a ballot at intermission. The winner is announced at the end of the show.
Director Sherry Coon has managed to wrangle this sizable party of 12 into a coherent story. While the themes may be a bit more adult than what we’re accustomed to in a Christie drama—adultery, class distinctions and much self-doubt—there remains the indomitable Lucy, whose discordant personality keeps the laughs coming.
The production, particularly the set design, lends the bedroom drama/murder rich verisimilitude. Hats off to all the Theatre Palisades volunteers who consistently add to the important cultural life of the Palisades.
Performances continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road. For tickets, contact theatrepalisades.org or (310) 454-1970.