‘Witness for the Prosecution’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria by Julia L. Exline

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The Little Theatre of Alexandria present’s Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, a courtroom thriller with sudden twists and turns that shock even those with the keenest detective eyes. Directed by Eddie Page, this suspenseful production has your attention from the word “go.”

Sam Sheinberg (Court Wader), Russell Silber (Leonard), Bruce Schmid (Barrister), Bruce Schmid (Clerk of the Court), Jeffrey Clarke (Justice Wainright), John Johnson (Barrister), and Mark Lee Adams (Sir Wilfred Robarts, QC). Photo by Doug Olmsted.

One of Little Theatre’s most notable qualities is their consistently remarkable sets, and this production does not disappoint. Designed by Doug Olmsted, this dual-faced set depicts the stately office chambers of an esteemed lawyer, and then revolves to show a criminal courtroom. When the lights lift to reveal an elegant office, complete with lush red drapes and a marble fireplace, the audience takes in an audible breath and claps -a first occurrence in all the shows I’ve seen – so kudos to Set Painter Deidre Nicholson-Lamb, who was assisted by Bobbie Herbst, Eddy Roger Parker, Leslie Reed, Jayn Rife, Bruce Schmid, and Hannah Wolfe. As the plot is specifically set in London’s historic Old Bailey, the seal of the Crown Court is prominently displayed in the courtroom set, overlooking polished wooden benches and witness stands.

D Robin Zerbe (Romaine) and Mark Lee Adams (Sir Wilfred Robarts, QC). Photo by Doug Olmsted.

The stage is kept well lit by Lighting Designer Nancy Owens, and Sound Designer David Correia splices in excited chattering by an unseen jury at appropriate moments. Costumes by Susan Boyd show formal professionalism in the 1930’s, with suits that are a bit sharper than our modern ones, complete with old-fashioned pocket-watches. Pleated skirts, cardigans, and era-appropriate cloche hats are chosen for the women, and a corduroy suit is used to show the social gap between the lawyers and the accused, while the jurors don the traditional powered wigs and court robes.

Leonard Vole (a fantastic Russell Silber), an unemployed but friendly young man, is suspected of murdering a rich elderly woman whom he had befriended, and to whom she had left everything in her will. Associates Sir Wilfred Robarts, Q.C. (Mark Lee Adams) and Mr. Mayhew (John Barclay Burns) look on as a nervous and naïve Vole talks himself into a deep hole of suspicion – all motives and circumstances seem to point in his direction. However, Vole passionately argues his innocence, and Silber is so convincing in his fervor that Mayhew and Robarts, along with the majority of the audience, believe him. That is, until his sharp, stern wife, Romaine (Robin Zerbe) raises doubts in her interview. Zerbe’s icy indifference and perfectly executed German accent are a pleasure to watch, and as the audience awaits Vole’s trial, no one is sure what (or who) to believe.

As Vole restlessly fidgets in the background, witnesses are called during his trial. Peter Alden Hyde is a brusquely professional Detective Inspector Hearne, and Cheryl Sinsabaugh receives many laughs as the deceased victim’s grouchy housekeeper, among others. The actors speak directly to the audience and address them as “the jury,” a clever way to make them a part of the action. Ambiguity grows as each witness gives their testimony, with conflicting stories, fresh motives, and contradictory viewpoints.

Robert Ford (Detective) and Russell Silber (Leonard). Photo by Doug Olmsted.

By the time intermission comes, the theatre is full of people excitedly discussing their own theories as to ‘whodunit.’ When new evidence and startling developments come to light, the case seems (finally) airtight. But is it? In a twist that collectively shocks the audience into silence, Miss Christie easily defeats the detective in us all.

With great acting, an outstanding set, and an ending that you will never forget, Witness for the Prosecution is a worthy evening of entertainment!

Running Time: Approximately 150 minutes, including two 15-minute intermissions.

Witness for the Prosecution runs through May 12, 2012, at The Little Theatre of Alexandria -600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets by calling the box office (703) 683-0496 or order them online.