Quote of the Day: As I sat down to adapt her story, time and again I was left in awe, staring at the page with my jaw hanging, at what she did. Poirot has a line that says: Everything is important. And, indeed, it’s true. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is a masterpiece with strokes as genius as any Vermeer or Monet. Kate Danley, playwright. You can see her adaptation of Christie’s first mystery novel, and the introduction of her famous detective Hercule Poirot at Theatre in the Round, through Dec. 18, 2022.
I listened to the audio of The Mysterious Affair at Styles about a year ago, and I thought I knew who the murderer was, but many of the details were gone from my memory. As I watched the stage production, I questioned everything. Poirot has a line, “Suspect everyone,” and I did! Christie brilliantly sets up this mystery to keep us guessing. In what was to become her signature style, she creates a cast of characters who all have something to hide. They guard their secrets even as they’re accused of murder.
Christie wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles in answer to a challenge from her sister to, “write a mystery that will keep people guessing to the end.” She answered the challenge by writing this brilliant novel filled with eccentric characters, all of them hiding something, and connected in some way. She gives us Lt. Arthur Hastings (Jake Leif) who has returned from the Great War with wounds both seen and unseen. He’s relaxing in the country home of his friend, John Cavendish (Aaron Campbell), where he resides with his wife Mary (Alicia Lane), his brother Lawrence (Thomas Burr), his stepmother Emily Inglethorp (Anna Olson) and her much younger husband Alfred Inglethorp (Thomas Bevan). Her maid Dorcas (Patti Gage) has intimate knowledge of the house and Emily’s routines. Emily’s nurse, Cynthia Murdock (Abby Slater) has experience with medicines which can also be poisonous. Her maid Evelyn Howard (Ariel Pinterton) also knows her way around the medicine chest. Emily’s stepsons expect to inherit their late father’s wealth, but the question of the will arises when she’s found poisoned in her room late one night. What happened to the latest will? Who will inherit the estate? Who has the most to gain, or lose, at Emily’s demise?
Lt. Hastings summons his new friend, a Belgian refugee living in England, our famous Hercule Poirot (Ben Tallen). In Holmes-like skill he quickly deduces what really happened in Emily’s bedroom that fateful night. The trick is to get the right evidence to the authorities. Detective James Japp (Todd Hansen) comes in, arrests are made, and a trial ensues. A certain Dr. Bauerstein (Ron Ravensborg) suddenly appears and seems to know the landscape very well. He and Cynthia seem to be close, but how close? Hastings is distracted by all the beautiful women, and confused by the evidence. Poirot allows him to think that he’s uncovered something important, only to discredit it later.
Playwright Kate Danley has done a superb job of bringing the world premiere of this adaptation to the stage at Theatre in the Round. I’m assuming she had the space in mind as she wrote it. The acting space is literally in the round, no place for backdrop or side doors. The set (designed by Devyn Becker) is pieces of furniture moved in and out by the actors, a fireplace with mantel that can be moved in and out of one of the edges, and various pieces wheeled in or moved as needed. The lighting (Mark Kieffer) and sound (Kristin Smith) enhance this performance, giving us a clearer idea of what is happening and where we are. They have sound effects for when they’re in the garden, walking through the old manor, and turning a metal key in a locked door. Costumes by Jessica Moore are period appropriate and nicely done.
Linda S. Paulsen directs this fine cast. Jake Leif is delightfully charming and distracted as Hastings. Ben Tallen takes on the quirkiness of the famous Poirot, pulling on his mustache and straightening ties and figurines, as needed. Everyone was so well cast, taking on the personalities of these characters, showing their emotions and hiding their secrets.
I attended this performance with my young adult children, and we all loved it. We talked about it on our drive home, and into the next day. It has a great messed up family plot, similar to Knives Out, that grabbed our interest and kept us guessing to the end. You can see The Mysterious Affair at Styles at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis, MN through December 18, 2022. Get your tickets fast. Performances are selling out!
Theatre in the Round Players, a Minnesota non-profit organization, is the oldest community theater in the Twin Cities. A Mysterious Affair at Styles is TRP’s 571st mainstage production since their first show, Life with Father, opened January 15, 1953.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: What are your family secrets? Or, what could you imagine them to be?