Thursday, October 12, 2023

Playwright explores mysterious disappearance in ‘Mrs. Christie’

Jennifer Le Blanc (left) is Agatha Christie with Elissa Beth Stebbins as  Charlotte. (Kevin Berne photo)

        Acclaimed mystery writer Agatha Christie became the center of her own, still unsolved, mystery in 1926. That’s when she disappeared for 11 days and never said why or where she went or what she did during that time.
        Playwright Heidi Armbruster theorizes what might have happened in the intriguing “Mrs. Christie,” being staged by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.    
        The action shifts between the past and present as Christie fan Lucy (Nicole Javier) tries to figure out what happened by seeking a missing notebook  from the author’s papers. 
        Her rival in the search is William (Max Tachis, who doubles as Christie’s publisher, Collins). She’s aided by an older woman, Jane (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone). 
        In the past scenes, Christie (Jennifer Le Blanc) frets over the affair that her husband, Archie (Aldo Billingslea), is having with the much younger Nancy Neele (Kina Kantor). Christie’s secretary, Charlotte (Elissa Beth Stebbins), tends to her needs and listens.
        The play posits that Christie disappears by checking into a hotel under a false name. She seems to lose all track of time despite efforts by the maid, Mary (Stebbins).
        She’s also confronted by Le Detective (William Thomas Hodgson), a stand-in for her fictional sleuth Poirot.
        As past and present characters meet in her home, a possible murder gives Le Detective a chance to show his prowess.
        The action is easy to follow because of artistic director Giovanna Sardelli’s direction and a talented cast that clearly defines each character. The only drawback is that sometimes the dialogue is hard to understand because of the English accents.
        The flexible set is by Christopher Fitzer with lighting by Wen-Ling Liao and sound by James Ard. Cathleen Edwards designed the handsome period costumes.    
        Running about two hours with an intermission, “Mrs. Christie” will continue through Oct. 29 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.
        For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit


Monday, October 9, 2023

Hillbarn opens 83rd season with 'Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery'

Michael Champlin (left) is John Watson, Alicia M.P. Nelson is Actor 3, and George Psarras is Sherlock Holmes. (Tracy Martin photo)


Five talented actors take Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory audiences on a fun-filled romp through Ken Ludwig's "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery."

Two men play Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson. Two other men and a woman, called Actors 1, 2 and 3, play three dozen or so male and female characters.

The cast is so small because in Ludwig’s interpretation, a theater company was supposed to travel to the Theatre Royal of Barnhill-on-Foster in Hampshire, England, in 1892. However, all but five of them missed the train, and all but a few trunks of costumes arrived, Watson (Michael Champlin) explains.In true show biz tradition, though, the intrepid troupe makes do with what it has. 

    Sir Henry Baskerville, a Texan who has inherited his title and a tidy fortune, has asked Holmes (George Psarras) and Watson to his newly inherited estate in the desolate moors to investigate the mysterious death of the previous heir.

Moreover, Sir Henry has received an unsigned note warning him not to go to the estate, which is supposedly stalked by a huge, vicious dog.

Holmes and Watson soon encounter several characters, some of them quite strange. After a series of adventures and close calls, they unravel the mystery.

As Actor 1, Ted Zoldan’s characters include an attorney and an eccentric butterfly chaser. Actor 2, Darrien Cabreana, is seen mostly as Sir Henry. Actor 3, Alicia M.P. Nelson, plays several female characters, but like her colleagues, she cross-dresses. Each character is clearly defined, thanks to Leslie Martinson’s astute direction of this versatile cast. 

Costumes designed by Nolan Miranda aid quick character changes with minimal additions or deletions, but one can only imagine how busy the stage crew is behind the scenes. Lighting and projections are by Spenser Matubang. Cindy Ng designed the props, which also aid in character definition, Kevin Davies designed the functional set. Jeff Mockus’s sound design features snatches from classics like “Pictures at an Exhibition” and operas like “Tosca” and “Falstaff.”

Running about two hours with an intermission, “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” has opened Hillbarn’s 83rd season, which has a new artistic director, Steve Muterspaugh.