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Theatre review: Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

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Theatre review: Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

From left: Hayley Jackson (Clarissa), Lisa J. Salas (Mildred Peake) and Tod Walker (Sir Rowland Delahaye) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

From left: Hayley Jackson (Clarissa), Lisa J. Salas (Mildred Peake) and Tod Walker (Sir Rowland Delahaye) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

Photos by Michael Hardy Photography

From left: Hayley Jackson (Clarissa), Lisa J. Salas (Mildred Peake) and Tod Walker (Sir Rowland Delahaye) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

Photos by Michael Hardy Photography

Photos by Michael Hardy Photography

From left: Hayley Jackson (Clarissa), Lisa J. Salas (Mildred Peake) and Tod Walker (Sir Rowland Delahaye) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

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Can murder ever be fun? Yes, according to Agatha Christie. Through Feb. 9, the Long Beach Playhouse (LBPH) is offering Christie’s Spider’s Web, an intricate whodunit with a heavy dose of amusement.

Director Ryan Holihan keeps the tone and pacing realistic rather than madcap, allowing the play’s central character, Clarissa Hailsham-Brown (Hayley Jackson), to shine all the more brightly.

Clarissa is nothing if not imaginative and energetic. All the other characters– including two older male mentors (John Russell and Tod Walker), a young male suitor (Cameron Gray), her husband (Lee Samuel Tanng) and young stepdaughter (Jasmine Sorensen)– are drawn to her and she to them. Clarissa’s biggest problem? She’s so prone to bending the truth for a little excitement that, on occasion, people don’t believe her.

Imagination meets reality one evening in Clarissa’s country-house drawing room when she nearly trips over a dead body. From there, the extent of Clarissa’s ability to invent alibis and explanations comes to the fore, with the other characters playing along to make her version of truth a reality.

Many of Christie’s tropes feature in this riveting game of deception– a secret desk-drawer, hidden wall-panel, drugs, gloves, suspicious man-servant (Jim Perham), motives of love and money and a formidable inspector (Gary Douglas), who must somehow disentangle an insanely intricate web of lies.

From left: Hayley Jackson (Clarissa), Tod Walker (Sir Rowland Delahaye, seated), Cameron Gray (Jeremy Warrender), Lisa J. Salas (Miss Peake) and John Russell (Hugo Birch) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web

All the cast are effective, especially the women. Lisa J. Salas steals her scenes as the rather forthright female gardener, Miss Peake. Sorensen, a CSULB graduate, impresses as perpetually hungry schoolgirl Pippa. And Sabrina Sonner holds her own as Constable Jones, managing not to be overshadowed by Douglas’s commanding Inspector Lord.

But it’s Jackson as Clarissa who charms the production with her unflagging sparkle and infectious giggle. Costumed by Donna Fritsche in a full-skirted blue dress (it’s 1955) allows her to literally twirl around the drawing-room set as she navigates and orchestrates events and characters, rather like a spider spinning her web. As Holihan notes, Christie’s webs also “trap us into playing her game,” in which “there is only one way out… her way.”

An enjoyable murder-mystery thus awaits with Spider’s Web. See if you can guess who did it and why, but don’t worry if you become too entangled. You’ll still smile in suspense as the gossamer threads of fiction unravel to reveal the truth.

Spider’s Web continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through Feb. 9, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.

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Theatre review: Long Beach Playhouse’s Spider’s Web