Hoopla

Agatha Christie's 'Unexpected Guest' takes stage at Old Creamery Theatre

A stranded stranger (Daniel A. Stevens) stumbles onto a murder, to which Laura Warwick (Jackie McCall) has confessed. But did she do it? Find out as “The Unexpected Guest” plays out through Nov. 10 on the Old Creamery Theatre’s main stage in Amana. (Studio Reserved photo)
A stranded stranger (Daniel A. Stevens) stumbles onto a murder, to which Laura Warwick (Jackie McCall) has confessed. But did she do it? Find out as “The Unexpected Guest” plays out through Nov. 10 on the Old Creamery Theatre’s main stage in Amana. (Studio Reserved photo)

AMANA — The beauty of an Agatha Christie mystery is just when you think you’ve figured out whodunit, he or she didn’t do it.

Such is the case with “The Unexpected Guest,” which opened to a rousing ovation from a nearly full-house crowd Thursday afternoon at the Old Creamery Theatre. The plot continues to unfold there through Nov. 10.

As director Emily Clinger promised, the play winds through more twists and turns than a secluded serpentine road. And the actors deliver, casting shadows of doubt every inch of the way.

The first half is rather talky, moving from a bang-up beginning where a stranded stranger (Daniel A. Stevens as Michael Starkwedder) seeks help at a nearby house, only to find a young wife (Jackie McCall as Laura Warwick) holding a gun a few feet from the body of her much-older, freshly dead husband.

Starkwedder is smitten by Laura’s beauty and predicament. Not wanting to see her waste the best years of her life behind bars, he begins hatching a plan to throw Inspector Thomas (Sean McCall) and Sgt. Cadwallader (Keegan Christopher) off her trail.

Schemes hatch, questions are asked, and fingers start pointing, until the field begins to narrow to the most likely suspect. Then the lights come up, leaving you in the dark.

After the intermission chatter dies down, the lies pick up speed and start flying in all directions in Act II.

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We discover that no one liked the victim, and everyone in the household had a reason to kill him. He wasn’t especially nice before a life-altering altercation left him in a wheelchair. He became even more bitter, and wanted everyone around him to suffer alongside him.

His wife, his mother, his valet, the housekeeper, his mentally challenged half-brother, and a local politician all had axes to grind and triggers to pull.

Jacob Kilburg is especially wonderful as Jan Warwick, the half-brother who is approaching adulthood, but is locked in the mind of a child. Kilburg’s portrayal is sensitive and chilling.

But chills swirl around all of the suspects, even the ones least likely to have a killer instinct. Like the sweet yet stern mother, Mrs. Warwick (Kay Francis), and the protective housekeeper, Miss Bennett (Marquetta Senters).

The valet, Henry Angell, is no angel, and actor David Q. Combs has fun toying with the others when he realizes he’s suddenly without a job.

Politician Julian Farrar (Dion Stover) is appropriately dodgy when the mud starts flinging his way.

Jackie McCall keeps her femme fatale persona on the precipice of passing out, as she tries to protect someone near to her heart — before it becomes obvious she needs to protect herself. Sean McCall gets to step out of his norm and flex some dramatic muscle as the inspector tries to make sense of all the mixed messages and transparent alibis.

Set in a manor house in South Wales circa 1957, the scenery and costumes give the actors plenty to chew on. But no one steps over that line, keeping their portrayals always believable, even as they weave the most unbelievable scenarios.

This production is perfect for the spooky season upon us, and will keep you guessing right up to the end. It’s such fun to try to outsmart everyone around you — even if you fail.

If you go

• What: Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest”

• Where: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana

• When: To Nov. 10; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday

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• Tickets: $32.50 adults, $20 students, $12 student rush; Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or oldcreamery.com/shows-and-tickets/buy-tickets

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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