Review: Fun of Art Center's 'Unexpected Guest' is guessing whodunit

nancy.wellard@cancer.orgOctober 12, 2012 

"Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest" is at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina 8 p.m. through Oct. 21; 2 p.m. Sundays; Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. $44; $31 for children. Details: 843-842-2787 or www.artshhi.com

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"The Unexpected Guest," which opened last Friday evening at The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, is an engrossing Agatha Christie whodunit that has been enjoyed by countless audiences since its first production in 1958.

Dim disclosures and much uncertainty, all delivered with a boatload of red herrings and just the right amount of whimsy, are a gift from Christie. Designed to take us all through a maze of false leads, the show provides a close-up look at the comings and goings of the most eccentric cast of characters --each more Christiesque than the next.

Much of the enjoyment of the evening is the exuberance that comes when you've actually figured out who really "dunit." With that said, I want to make every effort to share something of the play's action with you without giving away the surprising (trust me) outcome.

It begins on a very late foggy night in the English countryside. Inside an elegant book-lined study, punctuated with the heads and horns of animals, everything seems kind of settled for the evening. Over near the desk and in front of an open window, a male figure appears to be resting in a wheelchair.

In moments, Michael Starkwedder (Charlie Francis Murphy) blasts through an open window, explaining he has run his automobile into a ditch, having lost his way in the fog, and has come for assistance.

Now, I must tell you, the gentleman in the wheelchair, the master of the house, Richard Warwick, is, in fact, quite dead, due to a bullet wound in his head. Adding to Starkwedder's gruesome discovery is the attractive Mrs. Warwick (Lori Prince), who is standing nearby with a gun in her hand. She is quick to tell the unexpected guest that she is responsible. She "did it."

For reasons only Christie and many of her followers would consider, Starkwedder, displaying remarkable compassion, lets us all know that he does not believe this sympathetic woman could have shot her husband.

So the plot thickens.

Pay attention, here. The two decide, after she admits she didn't do it, to hatch a story for everybody's consumption -- one that will exclude everyone living in the house from suspicion.

What fun! And then for the real Christie part: We meet Ms. Bennett (Mary Baird), the fussbudget housekeeper; Julian Farrar (M. Scott McLean), the handsome interloper and Laura Warwick's, ahem, lover; Mrs. Warwick Sr. (Marina Re), and all this name implies; Jan Warwick (Dylan Riley-MacArthur), an off-the-wall brother; Henry Angell (David Volin), a darkish caregiver; and, of course, the very police-like policemen, Sgt. Cadwallader (Ethan Saks) and Inspector Thomas (Wesley Mann).

The conjured short story quickly arrived at by the intruder and the widow suggests that Warwick's murder was an act of revenge by a heartbroken man named MacGregor, from a far-away land, whose young son was killed in a driving accident some years ago.

Warwick, they decide, was the driver and the story goes that he was drunk.

Clearly, the "guest" is not the only element of "The Unexpected Guest" that is unexpected. More twists and turns not withstanding, I promise you will be entertained through the two-act presentation, as the picture in your mind of the guilty person moves completely through each of the cast.

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