Lyceum Review: Agatha Christie's 'Witness For The Prosecution' full of twists and turns

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Lyceum Theatre brings back Agatha Christie to its stage, but does so with one of her works which has never been adapted before to the Lyceum audience, "Witness For The Prosecution."

Making its Lyceum premiere, the play is billed as "from the grand dame of mystery comes her most ingenious thriller," a timid and kind man, Leonard Vole, is accused of murdering an elderly woman, Emily French, a woman whom he reports to his defense lawyer, Sir Wilfrid Robarts, as having a friendly relationship with. After its revealed that French named Vole to inherit her wealth in her will, suspicion falls quite easily on his character. Vole's only defense is the word of his foreigner wife, Romaine, to testify that Voles was with her when the murder happened. However, the plot thickens and jerks when it's revealed that Romaine becomes a witness for the prosecution. From that moment on, the play repeatedly twists and turns and keeps the audience asking the quintessential question of all murder mysteries, "Who dunnit?"

Robarts, the play's protagonist, a championed defense lawyer who never loses a case (especially to prosecutor Mr. Myers), portrays the sleuth trying to determine what evidence he can compile to prove Vole's innocence and what motive does Romaine have to testify against her husband. Robarts, played by Gary Neal Johnson, easily gravitates the audience to his plight, bringing the audience along with his line of thinking in almost a Sherlock Holmes- and/or Abraham Van Helsing-kind of way. Johnson, in every twist and turn of the story, had no troubles playing the part of hero.

The other two standout performers are Jeffrey C. Wolf, who portrays Leonard Vole with a gentle kindness and Gail Rastorfer as Romaine, who adequately throws a wrench into the plot and intrigues the audience remarkably.

Wolf plays Vole as his world slowly falls apart before him, going mad as the verdict is starting to appear he's guilty of murder. But audiences aren't so easily convinced of his innocence, especially with Wolf's Norman Bates-like appearance. Rastorfer brings in a steady performance and keeps it steady even as the story is upended by Romaine's actions.

The play is peppered with little bits of sardonic wit, providing some levity in what is mostly a courthouse drama that dives into humanity's darkest corners. Is Leonard Vole guilty of murder? Did his Romaine have a part in it? If Vole didn't kill Emily French, who did? Will Robarts win and prove Vole's innocence? These are just a handful of questions that will swim about in your mind as the play goes along and it's with satisfaction that I say I didn't see the end coming.

"Witness For The Prosecution" will continue to play at the Lyceum until Saturday, Aug. 2.

Contact Jesse Brown at jbrown@marshallnews.com

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