A Party to Murder, which opened last night at Little Theatre of Alexandria, is in the style of many Agatha Christie mysteries. Early on in the first act, one of the characters in the play even makes a toast to a portrait of Christie that hangs above the mantelpiece. There are multiple references to the famous writer’s mysteries sprinkled throughout this script.
The set, however, would do Dame Agatha proud. Designed by John Downing, painted by Luana Bossolo, and dressed by Susan Driscoll, the set evoked the living room of an upscale, yet remote hunting lodge. Carefully detailed, the set even offers some of the best special effects of the show, well designed by Art Snow. The only downside was the time taken for pace-crushing scene changes, which, in the middle of acts were slow and took the energy out of what should have been a fast-paced mystery.
There are a number of times in the production where the acting style borders on camp. Playing more to the humor that is in the characters themselves, the standard clichés of mysteries that are in A Party to Murder are downplayed. Direct presentation to the audience and overly loud oratorical projection can’t sell the story on their own.
Each of the characters go through transformative journeys in the play, but Legacy, as Willy, is the most fun to watch. He plays a tough guy character with a chip on his shoulder one minute, then a childlike scamp delighting in rule-breaking.
Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley costumed the cast of six beautifully. Period costumes, pajamas and dressing gowns were in addition to the party clothes that told the stories of the characters. Danielle Comer, as McKenzie, briefly models a lovely dress that is a tad too risqué for her evening’s escort, Elwood (James McDaniel). He sports a checkered vest with a swagger and the manipulative aspects of his character are soon revealed. Charles (John Henderson) is the host of the evening’s gathering who seems aware of more information than any of his guests possess.
Willy (Damian John Legacy) is a former pro football player who is now in a wheelchair, crippled in an accident. His sweats separate him from the rest of the characters and his lone blue collar attitude offers many of the play’s funniest lines. Valerie (Laura Peterson) and her younger sister Henri (Eva Seville Coll) are the outsiders, as it is their first time joining this group. The audience follows them as they try to make sense of the new experiences Charles has invited them into.
Director Jim Howard has assembled a strong team of designers that bring the space to life for the storytelling. As LTA often does, their large talent pool of volunteers provides strong support in every aspect of production.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.