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You know it’s August in Somesville when Acadia Repertory Theatre does an Agatha Christie play. This season, the company is producing “Towards Zero” for the first time.
Christie adapted many of her mysteries into plays, including “The Mousetrap,” which has been performed in London’s West End since it opened in 1952. But scriptwise, “Towards Zero” is no “Mousetrap.”
Acadia Rep’s fine company of experienced actors work hard at moving the action along but the slow pace of the script, Christie’s focus on the love triangle rather than the mystery and the 1950s morals on display make “Towards Zero” a three-act slog to sit through. There’s a reason no one but Christie’s die-hard fans have ever heard of the book or the play.
It takes place in the drawing room of Lady Tressilion’s home at Saltcreek in Cornwall, England. Guests gather, as they have in summers past, including her dead husband’s ward, Neville Strange (Mike Perlman), his present wife, Kay Strange (Beatrice Beutel), and his ex-wife, Audrey Strange (Olivia Michael). Lady Tressilion (Sarah Zinsser) does not approve of both women being in the same place at the same time.
Others visitors include the elderly woman’s companion, Mary Alden (Julie Ann Nevill), her longtime but younger friends Thomas Royde (Michael Kissin), Matthew Treves (Bernard Hope) and Kay’s American friend Ted Latimer (Samuel Fidler). After Lady Tressilion is killed, Superintendent Battle (Frank Bachman) and Inspector Leach (Rawl Leach) are called in to investigate.
Director Cheryl Willis and the cast wring all the humor possible from the script, whether Christie intended it or not. The climax, which in 1956 was meant to be serious and probably frightening, drew laughs from Tuesday’s opening night audience.
The many years that actors Nevill, Hope, Kissin, Bachman and Perlman have spent on stage together in Somesville allows them to give particularly fine performances. While they haven’t performed in this Christie play before, they have been in many of her better written shows.
Nevill makes Mary the most endearing and interesting characters on stage even though she is underwritten. Hope’s Treves at first appears to be a bit of a buffoon, but the actor makes him an important observer of the action.
As Royde, Kissin creates a bitter, angry man constantly fiddling with his pipe who keeps an important secret. Perlman’s Neville is a charming man who attracts women with his status and his money. Because of how the actor portrays the man, Neville’s attempts to bring his wife and ex-wife together as friends seems less suspicious than it should.
The real surprise in this cast is Fidler, who is an intern this summer with the company. His energy and wit light up the stage. Fidler’s portrayal of the laid-back American devoted to drinking and dancing is delightful.
The rest of the cast is competent, but their inexperience is obvious in their scenes with Acadia Rep veterans.
W. Preston Kenicki’s bright set and lighting design provide a wonderful playground for the characters. Jaylene Roths’ costume are intriguing and help set the play squarely in the mid-1950s.
It’s a good thing that Christie wrote or allowed her books to be adapted into plays more than 25 times. Acadia Rep can now say they’ve done one of the worst plays in Christie’s repertoire and move on to her better scripts as the company approaches its 50th season in 2022.
“Towards Zero” will be performed at Acadia Repertory Theatre at 8:15 p.m. through Sept. 1 in the Masonic Hall in Somesville on Mount Desert Island. For information, call 207-244-7260 or visit acadiarep.com.