Agatha Christie's obscure mystery play, "Towards Zero," features a character named Mrs. Barrett who, in half-light, appears on stage before each act and between scenes.
The audience does not know who she is, why she is there or what she is doing. This is all very mysterious.
Unfortunately, it's about the only aspect of the Havilah-Hayes Dinner Theatre production which is.
Avoiding all the obvious invitations and opportunities to pun and play with the title of this play in relation to its merit, let it simply be said, this is not a good play.
The only way this script might work or have any performance value would be to play it as a spoof or a travesty. Unfortunately, the Havilah-Hayes Dinner Theatre elected to play it straight Mike Pressimone and his colleagues at Stone Road Productions have proven themselves twice before with their solid productions of "The Sunshine Boys" and "I Do, I Do." This is surely only a lapse in planning their season.
Even this "lapse" has its reasons.
Theaters all over the country have participated in the celebration of 1990 as the Agatha Christie Centennial. Obviously, Pressimone opted for the less well-known play to avoid adding to the glut of "Ten Little Indians" productions and other well-known titles from the prolific playwright.
Instead of a plot, this play has instances, references and indications.
It is loosely constructed and is almost devoid of interest factors.
Essentially, there is one act of exposition and another of resolution.
Hardly high drama.
The story, or what there is of it, has something to do with divorce, remarriage, jealousy and an inheritance. A man, two women, a rich old lady and several other folks hang around and comment on the action and set themselves up as possible murderers. Not one of them is especially interesting.
At this point, it would be helpful to say something positive about the directing and acting. However, the former was uninspired and the latter, tepid.
Again, all of this is unexpected from the local talents who have so well and so often delighted their audiences. Given the poor quality of the material with which they wrestled, however, their lack of luster is not a surprise.
Almost all of the characters were flat and barely individualized. Some even verged on the concave.
Only M. L. Grout, in the role of the first wife, brought any inner life to her character, thus achieving some dimension and much believability.
Also of note, Denae Chandler's character, the second wife, appeared almost spastic in comparison to the catatonics around her.
This is a very, very British play.
When a character says, "He was mad keen on sailing," we know we are not in Des Moines. Most of the actors were unable to either achieve or sustain the accent, or both, and one didn't even try. This same actor appeared as though he would have preferred to be anywhere but on the stage of Pipe Creek Park.
I wish I were able to provide some sunshine in this rather dark review.
But this production provided little to glow about.
Once again . . . This is a fine production company. It will arise from these ashes and toward much, much more than zero.
"Towards Zero" runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through November at the Havilah-Hayes Dinner Theatre.