Because wayward travelers in a murder mystery never lose their way in the daylight, “The Unexpected Guest” begins on a foggy night in Wales.
Under Agatha Christie’s pen, the stranger has run his car into a ditch. Seeking help, he walks to an isolated house (is there any other kind?) where he sees a woman holding a gun, standing over a man in a wheelchair. Naturally, it’s her husband. And he’s dead.
And then, everything gets foggy.
“One of the things I really love about Agatha Christie is that she deals in a lot of gray areas,” said Emily Clinger, 42, of St. Louis. She’s directing the whodunit opening Oct. 24 and running through Nov. 10 at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana.
Sometimes the victim isn’t an upstanding citizen and the murderer isn’t a villain, she said.
“(The author) lets us question what is right and what is wrong, and if someone does something bad, maybe we still have sympathy for them. So I feel this does go in line with that a little bit, like maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea that this man got shot,” Clinger said with a laugh.
“I do feel like it is very Agatha Christie in that there’s some morally gray areas that are fun to explore. She definitely keeps you guessing until the end. The first time I read it, I kept going back and forth on who I thought the murderer was.”
This tale doesn’t feature Christie’s favorite sleuths, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Instead, she brings in an inspector, assisted by a sergeant, to investigate the crime — and tosses in a couple of red herrings to lead viewers astray.
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“I’m really excited to watch the audience try to figure it out,” Clinger said. “I can’t wait until when the murderer is revealed. I’m really hoping to hear some gasps, and I’m really hoping to hear some people say that they figured it out, that they knew who it was.”
Even though Clinger has been in St. Louis for 13 years and spends most of her time as the tour manager at the Shakespeare Festival there, she also works as a stage manager around that city. For the past decade she has been involved at the Old Creamery, too, where she’s just finished stage managing “Mamma Mia.”
“As a stage manager, you get to work with a lot of different directors and see how different people work,” she said. “When you work with the same directors again and again ... they start to use you a little bit more. You get to have some input sometimes on the show, so stage managing is a really great way to learn how to direct.”
And while she’s worked “many times” as a stage manager alongside Sean McCall, the Old Creamery’s artistic director, this time she gets to direct him as he plays Inspector Thomas. Keegan Christopher, one of the professional troupe’s artistic associates, plays his assistant, Sergeant Cadwallader.
Other familiar faces include Jackie McCall as the femme fatale with the smoking gun, Marquetta Senters as the nurse attendant and housekeeper, Kay Francis as the matriarch and David Q. Combs as the valet.
Clinger has worked with everyone in the cast — except for the stranger, played by Daniel A. Stevens. After just a couple days of rehearsals, she was excited about having him join the fray.
She’s confident audiences will relate to his character, as well as the others. And even though the show is set in 1958, Clinger described the themes as “timeless,” just like Christie.
“She wrote realistic characters. They’re not just ... good or bad,” Clinger said. “There are a lot of different facets to their lives and personalities, so I think that it’s easy for people to relate to the different characters. You can see a little bit of yourself in them. ...
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“Agatha Christie writes family the way that we live family, where it’s ... not always easy, sometimes it’s a little complicated, but it’s realistic.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting into these characters and discovering all these parts of them that are very human and really relatable. But it’s also fun. It’s such a fun journey through these twists and turns.”
WHAT: Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest”
WHERE: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana
WHEN: Oct. 24 to Nov. 10; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
TICKETS: $32.50 adults, $20 students, $12 student rush; Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com/shows-and-tickets/buy-tickets/