It’s said that the devil is in the details, and when it comes to Agatha Christie’s mind-bending mysteries, paying attention to the littlest things just might solve the case.
That’s a clue for anyone interested in sharpening their sleuthing skills with Newport Theatre Arts Center’s latest production, the Christie classic “Witness for the Prosecution,” which runs through February 22.
Since 2015 is the 125th anniversary of the best-selling author’s birth, it seems fitting to revisit what is arguably one of Christie’s best, although rarely staged, creations.
Under the direction of Newport Theatre Arts Center newcomer Kathy Paladino, the tricky courtroom drama challenges audience and actors alike with one of Dame Christie’s most intricately planned plots.
Over the years, “Witness for the Prosecution” has won the New York Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Foreign Play of the Year, but it began life as a short story first published in 1925.
It tells the tale of one Leonard Vole, who stands accused of murdering the wealthy Emily French. Not knowing that he was already married, the older widow had made him her principal heir. On trial for his life, and with his wife Romaine deciding to testify against him, Vole’s prospects look grim. But this is Agatha Christie, so anything can, and most likely will, happen.
Dissatisfied with the original ending, Christie later changed it when she rewrote the story for the stage, adding an extra surprise to a thriller already rife with shocking turns.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what our patrons think of the show,” said Paladino in a phone interview prior to opening night.
With close to 100 plays and musicals under her belt, including “Legally Blonde,” “Grapes of Wrath,” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the veteran director has been enjoying the experience of tackling her first Agatha Christie play as well as her first production at Newport Theatre Arts Center.
“I was interested initially because I like large casts and courtroom dramas, which can be very riveting. For this production we have a cast of 18, although it’s usually 30, and the show’s not done a lot for this reason,” she explained. “There’s a makeup challenge in terms of creating a specific look that’s difficult to do (clue number two, for those keeping count) and it’s challenging in other ways as well: it runs two and a half hours, and the amount of lines for the actors is tough, because so much information is given out.”
“As a director I always say don’t play the end of the play, play each moment,” Paladino continued. That’s especially important here. In most shows, the actors are always looking for their back story and their motivation, but one of the interesting things in directing ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ is that because of all the twists, double twists, and triple twists, they have to play their characters completely 100 percent how they are being portrayed in that actual moment.”
Dosed with deception and leavened with dashes of humor, “Witness for the Prosecution” is savory with the taut suspense that’s become a Christie trademark. But whether short story, novel, or play, Dame Agatha Christie’s mysteries have always required the absorbed attention of an itemized tax return- albeit much more pleasurable- so be prepared to sit up and take notice of those devilish details, warns Paladino.
“Just when you think you know one thing, it changes!”
For tickets or more information, call (949) 631-0288 or visit NTAConline.com.