NEW LEBANON, N.Y. >> The minute you see the drawn curtains in front of the French doors upstage as the lights come up on the final scene of The Theater Barn production of Agatha Christie's "Towards Zero," you know, you just know that by the end, some hapless soul will be standing in front of those curtains and attacked from behind by a killer who already has claimed one life.
Sure enough. It's not long before some hapless soul winds up standing there, alone in the room, doing nothing but wait for the inevitable (why this soul doesn't hear or at least sense the impending danger as those curtains are opened danger is only one of a catalog of puzzles in this production).
We're not done. The killer maneuvers the incipient victim to a nearby chaise and, with hands placed firmly on the soon-to-be-victim's shoulders, talks for about a minute and half while the victim simply sits there — virtually motionless, no screams, no shouts, no attempt to get away — until the killer's hands tighten around the neck and
That's the inevitable outcome of a production that, for the most part, borders on tongue-in-cheek Monty Python satire with a lot of awkward staging and a lot of look-how-we're-playing-characters-in-an-Agatha Christie-mystery posturing, rather than actually being characters in an Agatha Christie play.
Too bad because the late Dame Christie is having a lot of genuine fun of her own in this 1944 play, which brings a disparate group of people together for a holiday at the seaside home of a crusty, fussy elderly woman, Camilla Lady Tressilian (Joan Coombs).
The guest list includes Neville Strange (Andrew Colford, a tennis player with matinee idol looks who also is the ward of Lady Tressilian's late husband); Neville's new wife, Kay (a constantly whining and/or pouting Morgan Troia); Neville's "nervous, pallid first wife," as Christie describes her, Audrey (played stiffly by a nervous and pallid Katrina Klein); Mathew Treves (a blustery, inconsistent John M. Trainor), a solicitor, friend of Lady Tressilian and something of an amateur sleuth; Thomas Royde (a hard-to-read Toby Wherry), a distant cousin of Audrey who has come all the way from Malaysia, after a seven-year absence to stake his romantic claim on Audrey; Ted Latimer (Kyle McIlhone), a friend of Kay; Lady Tressilian's trusted aide and companion, Mary Alden (Fleece); and a Scotland Yard police superintendent named Battle (Phil Rice) who conveniently happens to be vacationing nearby.
Christie takes up most of the talky first act with tricky exposition and stocking her pond with red herrings, all leading up to a murder.
Rice's entrance at the outset of the second act and hos cintuing presence tgroighout, goe4s a long way tuward vgiving this orodiction style, clatrity asmd theatrical ounch.
In addition to Rice, there is stylish, persuasive work by Colford, who plays Neville with refreshing brash assurance and audacity; Coombs as a colorfully feisty and demanding Camilla Lady Tressilian; and Fleece, who brings assurance, a high degree of competence, efficiency, compassion and a hint of mystery to the role of Mary, as she goes about her business making sure her employer and her guests have what they need to ensure their comfort. Would she could do the same for us.
On Stage ...
What: "Towards Zero" by Agatha Christie. Directed by Chris Briante
With: Toby Wherry, Morgan Troia, Fleece, John M. Trainor, Andrew Colford, Joan Coombs, Katrina Klein, Kyle McIlhone, Phil Rice, Andrew Pace, Matthew McFadden
Designers: Alison Gensmer, costume; Abe Phelps, set; Allen Phelps, lighting
Who: The Theater Barn
Where: 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.
When: Now through July 24. Evenings — Thursday through Friday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 4; Sunday at 2
Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes (including one intermission)
Tickets: $27, $22
How: (518) 794-8989; thetheaterbarn.org; directly at Theater Barn box office