By Vicki Paris Goodman
Famous fictitious sleuth Hercule Poirot makes no appearance in this rendition of The Hollow, but the crafty whodunit is vintage Agatha Christie all the way. And it’s yummy.
A whole cadre of intriguing characters meet at the English country estate of Sir Henry (Tim Forsyth) and Lucy (Catharine Christof) Angkatell for a weekend’s R&R. Dr. John Cristow (Mike Jensen) and his milquetoasty wife Gerda (Jessica Tallmadge) are among them. As the good doctor philanders his way through the visit while Gerda sings his praises, one wonders what the two lovely objects of his adulterous affections see in him. In fact, one wonders what Gerda sees in him. Never mind, suffice it to say they see something.
But there is more than just a love quadrangle going on here. Enter upright Edward Angkatell (Joey Greer) and the well-centered Midge Harvey (Whitney Montgomery) whose unrequited love for Edward is palpable to everyone but him. He, on the other hand, pursues Henrietta Angkatell (Chelsea Maidhof), Cristow’s main cheat. So is this then a love “sextangle”? Oh, whatever. And there are more Angkatells in love with one another as to give the movie Chinatown an incestuous run for its money. But again, it’s all beside the point.
No, the deliciousness of The Hollow is in Lucy’s bumbling ineptitude and in Sir Henry’s somehow understandable adoration of her. It’s in the enigmatic overseeing countenance of Gudgeon the butler (James Hurd). It’s in the fine hand and comedic touch of director Neno Pervan, who sets the mood in the first minute with lanterns carried ever so slowly at shoulder height by Gudgeon and maid Doris (Carrie Holt). And it’s in all of Pervan’s other directorial manipulations that give the production its humor, its flair, its intrigue and its panache.
Christof is the most delightful Lucy, who sees no reason why the murder of one of her guests should cause anyone to skip a meal, including the victim’s wife. Forsyth’s Henry is clearly enchanted by Lucy’s lightness and carefree inanity– a match made in Heaven (and two excellent casting choices).
The unhappy Henrietta and pathological Veronica (Kate Thomsen), who still carries a torch for Cristow years after their relationship ended, give new meaning to the young and the restless.
Montgomery’s hapless Midge commands our admiration and our sympathy as she stoically pines away for the just as hapless Edward.
The eerily out-of-touch Gerda is handily portrayed by Tallmadge, and Jensen gives Cristow his sleazy insensitivity. He’s the antagonist you love to hate.
David Rousseve and Nicholas Mirante are well cast in the roles of Inspector Colquhoun and Detective Sergeant Penny.
Sound and lighting, by Mladen Milicevic and Kyle Ruebsamen, respectively, are perfectly executed for maximum suspense. And Donna Fritsche’s costumes, especially the young women’s skirted suits and blouses, are to die for. (Oops! No pun intended.)
The fascinating thing about The Hollow is that the murderer turns out to be exactly the one person you might cross off your list first for seeming far too obvious a suspect. Guess who!
The Hollow continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through April 24, 2010. Ticket prices are $22 general admission; $20 for seniors (60+); $12 for students with valid student ID. Performances are 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2pm on March 21, 28, April 4 and 11. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 494-1014 ext. 1 or at lbplayhouse.org. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 East Anaheim Street in Long Beach.