It's refreshing to encounter an Agatha Christie mystery play that hasn't been overproduced to the point where most audience members are aware of the killer's identity before the lights come up.
Unlike the familiar "Ten Little Indians" or "The Mousetrap," Christie's "The Hollow," now on stage at the newly refurbished Westminster Community Theater, will be a stranger to most patrons. And its performances are convincing enough to keep its audiences guessing until its climactic moments.
"The Hollow" follows the traditional Christie format of gathering a group of people together and then knocking one of them off. Its singular weakness is the interminably chatty exposition that precedes the crime, though director Brandon Ferruccio takes this opportunity to underscore character traits in this lengthy expository period.
In this adventure, the characters are mostly related — a group of cousins, aunts and uncles assembled at the home of a posh, older couple where murder most foul eventually occurs. As usual, several of the characters have both motive and opportunity — in this case, the group has gone target shooting and one of them literally becomes a target.
The hosts are a decorated nobleman (Sherman Wiggs Jr.) and his somewhat addled wife (Beth Titus — yes, my ex-wife, but that curtain fell long ago), and they set the tone of the play skillfully. His deft underplaying and her freewheeling eccentricities provide an effective foundation.
One character is held in low regard for good reason. Scott Finn is solidly snarky as an egocentric physician who brings his mousy, over-dependent wife (Kimberly Wooldridge) to the party where he encounters both of his mistresses — an excitable sculptor (Monica Robles) and a glamorous American actress (Laura Flores) who just happens to reside down the road a bit. Both actresses are adept at strategically overplaying their roles.
Then there's the heir to the family manor (Jeff June) and his companion (his real-life wife, Teresa June), a "commoner" among these peers of the realm and quite anxious about it. Their subplot seems a bit contrived, but both play it effectively.
The butler (John C. Park) is no background character in this exercise, but a scheming and inscrutable Asian with an air of menace behind his obsequious nature. He's assisted nicely by Tiffani Hockings as the lovely, lanky maid.
Once murder is committed, the stage belongs to Rick Reischman, a tough, no-nonsense Scotland Yard inspector with a commanding presence. Tony Salazar turns his colorless police sergeant character into a richly contrasting and quite human figure.
The 1950s setting is well-designed by director Ferruccio and Lenore Stjerne, while Tim Heaton's sound and lighting effects work well (though the transition time often lags). The theater's redesigned lobby and restrooms serve to modernize this 1974-era structure.
For fans of the murder mystery genre who prefer to guess the killer's identity as the play unfolds, "The Hollow" will address that need splendidly at the Westminster Community Theater.
TOM TITUS reviews theater for the Huntington Beach Independent.
If You Go
What: "The Hollow"
Where: Westminster Community Theater, 7272 Maple St., Westminster
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 2
Cost: $15 - $17
Call: (714) 527-5546 or visit http://www.wctstage.org.