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a Drama
by Agatha Christie

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Onstage Atlanta on Ponce [WEBSITE]
ID# 5171

SHOWING : October 13, 2017 - November 05, 2017



Karl Hendryk, a brilliant professor, attends to his wife Anya, an invalid suffering from a progressive disease who bitterly regrets having been forced to move to England. When Karl’s cousin Lisa moves in to assist in caring for Anya, tensions rise and feelings are quick to develop. The situation is further disturbed when a rich young student, Helen Rollander, takes on private lessons with the professor. Often misleadingly described as a murder mystery, the murder in "Verdict" happens on stage in clear view of the audience. The story becomes a whydunnit, as opposed to a whodunnit.

Director Elisabeth Cooper
Dr. Stoner Adam Bailey
Lisa Karina Balfour
Sir William Rollander Stephen Banks
Detective Inspector Ogden Samuel Gresham
Anya Hendryk Courtney Loner
Professor Karl Hendryk Rick Perera
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Accents All Over the Place
by playgoer
Sunday, November 5, 2017
"Verdict" is not one of Agatha Christie’s most-produced plays, and with good reason. It’s not a murder mystery; we see the murder taking place at the end of the first act, but the perpetrator tries to frame it as a suicide. After confessing to a single person in the second act, the perpetrator is killed in a traffic accident. When the death is ruled a murder, an innocent person is arrested and brought to trial. What will the jury’s verdict be?

The action all takes place in the apartment of Professor Karl Hendryk (Rick Perera). Elisabeth Cooper’s set design gives us a large room with arched openings up right and down left, a picture window up left center. The walls are brown, blemished with darker blotches in no particular pattern on the open sections of wall. Shabby-elegant furnishings include several bookcases, a sofa center stage, and a desk up left. Liane LeMaster’s excellent props fill up the bookcases and spill onto the furniture. The view from the picture window just shows us a blue background with shadows of the muntins separating the panes of the window rather than anything evocative of the location.

David Reingold’s lighting provides the brightest illumination for people seated on the sofa. That works pretty well for the first act, where people tend to sit on the sofa, but creates bands of bright and dim light that people are constantly walking through in the second act. The few lighting effects in the show seem clumsy. Lights dim as the first act is approaching a close, then brighten and dim again, accompanied by portentous music.

Amy Morrow’s sound design goes for the loud. Music selections are appropriate, if a bit campy, but fill up scene changes with such volume that it robs scene endings of applause. There also seemed to be an extraneous gunshot sound at the performance I attended, when no one is shot in the play.

Lauren Sakryd has supplied some nice costumes, but the time period of the play is unclear. Agatha Christie wrote "Verdict" in 1958, and the women’s costumes would suggest the 1950’s, but the hairstyle and clothing of Lester Cole (Taylor Ballard) would suggest the late 1960’s or beyond.

The technical elements all suggest a light directorial touch by Elisabeth Cooper that has failed to correct less-than-optimal design features. The same applies to performances, and especially the welter of accents with which the cast attempts to contend, with very limited success. Rick Perera has a wonderful, consistent German accent as Professor Hendryk. His cousin Lisa Koletzky (Karina Balfour), on the other hand, has a nicely consistent Polish-tinged accent. His sickly wife Anya (Courtney Loner) has American speech patterns tinged with occasional words in a vaguely Eastern European accent. What country have these refugees come from? We’re never told, and we certainly can’t tell from the accents we hear.

Other cast members have American speech patterns with occasional British pronunciations, such as Stephen Banks’ English as Sir William Rollander, Adam Bailey’s Scottish as Dr. Stoner, and Victoria Wilson’s weirdly enunciating and hard-to-understand Mrs. Roper. Taylor Ballard’s lower middle class English as Lester Cole and Samuel David Gresham’s upper middle class English as Detective Inspector Ogden are more consistent and therefore more successful. Hannah Morris, as the ritzy Helen Rollander, pulls off the most successful British accent. Horace Ceasar’s lines are so few and his volume so low as Police Sergeant Pearce that it’s difficult to judge the accuracy of his accent.

Volume is also an issue for Mr. Perera, who in addition seems to have been blocked to deliver many lines upstage during conversations with others onstage. It’s a fine performance in all other respects, but would benefit from a little extra volume.

Performances are good all around, with the exception of Ms. Wilson, whose self-assured playing to the audience sticks out like a sore thumb. Mr. Ballard is directed to play for comedy, which also falls a bit flat, as do Mr. Bailey’s frequent attempts at dry humor. Roles that are played straight are more successful, and Ms. Loner’s makeup works exceedingly well at making her look sickly.

The heart of the play is the relationship between the professor and his cousin. Mr. Perera and Ms. Balfour are both excellent in their roles, as is Ms. Morris in the most villainous role in the play. Her attraction to the professor doesn’t seem well-motivated, though, which is a common problem in Agatha Christie scripts. Ms. Christie is so concerned with plot that plot-advancing actions take precedence over more human concerns. "Verdict" has a mediocre plot, avoiding any riveting courtroom drama in order to play on a single unit set, and the human relationships at the forefront appear a bit pallid. Under Elisabeth Cooper’s direction, the lackluster script is reflected by a lackluster production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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