You don’t need Google to unravel the skein of lies and clues in Agatha Christie’s comic-mystery, The Spider’s Web, directed by Michael David Fox for the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre.
You just need to sit back for an evening of sleuth and goof.
Fox elicits a spirited performance out of a solid cast. He had wonderful material – entertaining, literate, a clever set up, a devious resolution - with which to work. It’s not just a mystery (drawing room, polite company, a dead body), it’s English, so the men are tweedy and the women are reedy.
Twists and turns will draw you off the scent. A Cassandra-like wife lies so much that no one believes her when she tells the truth; a secret chamber; a corpse; an uncle who worked for British Intelligence in the Great War; a diplomat husband who will secret the Prime Minister and the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister Molotov back to the manor for a private, career-enhancing powwow; and a judge with a propensity for cocktails swigged not stirred.
And there are laughs and chortles, as well. It’s like doing Thursday’s New York Times crossword puzzle as Steven Wright provides ambient noise on the telly.
Clarissa Hailsham-Brown (Melissa Leigh), second wife of Henry (Ryan Treller), step-mom of Pippa (Kaylee Bouwens), niece of Sir Rowland Delahaye (Mitchell Nunn), flirter to flirtee Jeremy Warrender (Ryan Young) - that family tree’s a web unto itself – gets an unexpected and harrowing visit from Oliver Abbott (Joseph Byrd), married to Pippa’s mother. Repo-man-ish, he promises blackmail if not grievous bodily harm. For his effort, someone strikes him beastly dead.
Thence ensues a CSI: English Countryside, led by Inspector Lord (Rick Kopps) and Constable Jones (Todd Gilliam). After some major league detection and some amateur though no less effective and impressive detection, we get one big “Aha!,” crime solved.
Whodunit and why? I’m not saying though I will confess it’s got my stamp of approval.
Fox slyly keeps us chasing after red herrings like a color-blind cat.
With his solid ensemble cast, he juggles culprit candidates with such a light and sure hand that we realize it’s not so much about resolving – perhaps avenging - someone’s murder as it is keeping us guessing who, what, and why.
The cast was puzzle-piece perfect. Leigh made the delightful Clarissa an insouciant, inveterate fibber. Bouwens made us think Pippa murdered Step Dad Dearest by dint of will. Nunn touted with octopus ink ambiguity Delahaye’s work in Intelligence. Treller made us question the real nature of his secret meeting with Molotov. Kopps, with his unplaceable accent, made us wonder what the Lord Lord was up to. And I was sure (I was right) there was more to Rebecca Rainbolt’s Mrs. Elgin the maid and Mildred Peake’s Martha Duncan the gardener than met the eye. A ton more.