A surprise notice appears in a local newspaper announcing the time and place of a murder that will occur that evening.
The whole town sees it, sparking curious neighbors to flock to the residence where the murder is set to occur to see who will be killed, and why.
Ultimately, the victim turns out to be not one of the house's several occupants, but an unexpected and unknown visitor.
The macabre setup of Agatha Christie’s aptly named detective story “A Murder is Announced” lends itself to serious moments on the Evergreen Playhouse stage, but Leslie Darbon’s stage adaptation of Christie’s original novel contains a lot of humor as well, said Director Emilie Brown.
“I think it’s good for the whole family,” she told The Chronicle last week.
The story features Christie’s iconic detective, Miss Marple (portrayed by Susan Robb), who works to solve the titular murder alongside Inspector Craddock (portrayed by George Dougherty) and navigates the twists and turns of mixed motives, concealed identities and a second death that turn the investigation into a complex puzzle.
Filling out the rest of the cast are Michelle Koenen as Letitia Blacklock, Alene Stewarrt as Dora Bunner, Brittany Wilcox as Phillipa Haymes, Madeline Roy as Julia Simmons, Sean-Patrick McNeal as Patrick Simmons, Ruby Stanton as Mitzi, Nichole Galyean as Mrs. Swettenham, Tim Donnell as Edmund Swettenham, Lucas House as Rudi Sherz and Danni Hallford as Sergeant Mellors.
“This play’s very close to the book, so I knew what to expect,” said Koenen, who also serves as the show’s lighting director.
“There are some differences (between the play and the book), there are fewer characters than there are in the book, but it’s been really fun seeing how all the characters work together, or don’t.”
Robb herself is a self-proclaimed “die-hard” fan of British actress Joan Hickson’s portrayal of Miss Marple in the BBC miniseries of the same name that ran in the 80s and early 90s, but described her take on the character as “quite different” from Hickson’s, incorporating some of Hickson’s characteristics but adding “a bit more edge,” she said.
“Obviously, for someone of my age, from England, Miss Marple is like, the pinnacle of things you would ever like to play, so for me it’s the best,” she said.
Doughtery, who made his Evergreen debut in last season’s production of “Mamma Mia!” said taking on the role of Inspector Craddock has been a unique challenge given that his acting experience lies predominantly in musical theater.
“In musicals, you’ve got songs to fall back on. This doesn’t have that, it’s just all dialogue. So that’s been daunting and intimidating,” he said. “It’s a challenge and I’m enjoying the process.”
“Both of your dialogues really lead the mystery,” said Brown, addressing Robb and Doughtery, “So it’s really critical helping bring the audience (to) follow each twist and turn and whodunnit and red herring.”
The entire play takes place in the living room of Blacklock’s residence in Chipping Cleghorn, England, in the early 1950s.
Bringing that setting and time period to life on stage are stage manager Matthew Michael, light board operator Noah Lyons, set designer Theresa Mckenziesullivan, costume designer Shari Blackwell, set constructors Isaac Mckenziesullivan and Mark Pendleton, and props and set dressing manager Jennifer Wallace.
The time period, combined with how well-known the source material is, created an interesting challenge for Brown to balance paying tribute to Christie’s novel while translating it to a modern American audience.
“Trying to make sure that the interpretation is clear enough that the jokes play and kind of the subtext is there for the current audience without making it unrecognizable as Miss Marple is a really fun challenge and I'm hoping that we hit the mark there,” said Brown.
“There are going to be people who come down to see it because they want to see a Miss Marple show in person, and they hopefully will take what they've known and put it aside and enjoy the show that we're gonna present,” said Dougherty.
If You Go …
What: Evergreen Playhouse presents “A Murder is Announced”
When: Oct. 14-30 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Special Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, Oct. 20
Where: Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia
Tickets: $15 adults and $12 students/seniors. Advanced tickets can be purchased at evergreenplayhouse.com
Keeping with some of the COVID-19 safety protocols it initiated last year, masking is required for all audience members. Proof of vaccination is not required.
Info: Evergreenplayhouse.com or @EvergeenPlayhouse on Facebook