Theatre review: Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest at the Long Beach Playhouse

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Theatre review: Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest at the Long Beach Playhouse

Murder sparks a myriad of reactions from Christian Jordan Skinner, Lisa J. Salas, Carmen Tunis, Lee Samuel Tanng, and Taryne Moyse.

Murder sparks a myriad of reactions from Christian Jordan Skinner, Lisa J. Salas, Carmen Tunis, Lee Samuel Tanng, and Taryne Moyse.

Photo by Michael Hardy

Murder sparks a myriad of reactions from Christian Jordan Skinner, Lisa J. Salas, Carmen Tunis, Lee Samuel Tanng, and Taryne Moyse.

Photo by Michael Hardy

Photo by Michael Hardy

Murder sparks a myriad of reactions from Christian Jordan Skinner, Lisa J. Salas, Carmen Tunis, Lee Samuel Tanng, and Taryne Moyse.

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The queen of the murder mystery’s 1958 play has crossed the Atlantic, bringing the countryside of Bristol, Wales to Long Beach’s theatre scene. Any soul delving into the work of Agatha Christie, the world’s bestselling author of all time, is certain to spend the majority of their theatre experience on the edge of their seat, for Christie’s works are chock full of deceptive twists and darkly humorous suspense. Long Beach Playhouse’s effort upholds her legacy well.

When motorist Michael Starkwedder (Lee Samuel Tanng) drives his car into a ditch one foggy night, he wanders to the nearest residence to seek out help. Upon entering the house, Starkwedder is witness to a precarious situation: the dead body of the house’s owner and his wife (Taryne Moyse) standing nearby with a smoking gun. Starkwedder, the victim’s family, the house’s staff, and the local authorities then attempt to piece together the truth about this sinister murder. Do not write any of the suspects off too early—– not everything is as it seems.

A perplexing murder mystery production is nothing without a balanced ensemble—– the cast displays fantastic chemistry in the fast-talking, high-stakes environment they partake in. The highest of accolades must be paid to Christian Jordan Skinner’s frantic and mischievous Jan Warwick, the mentally disabled and childlike half-brother of the victim. Skinner exhibits several mood swings within the same scene (sometimes within the same line, even) and avoids becoming too cartoonish to be believable.

Lisa J. Salas plays Miss Bennett, Jan Warwick’s caretaker, with the sincerest of concern. Carmen Tunis plays the victim’s mother and shines as the prim curmudgeon. Gary Douglas and Devin Stone are a hilariously odd pairing as the law enforcement officials investigating the murder.

And Stephen Alan Carver steals many scenes as the calculated and opportunistic Henry Angell, the victim’s nurse who has to think quick in order to save his job status following the murder of his employer. Carver’s 2020 return to Long Beach Playhouse is a welcome one following his impressive run as Georges in La Cage Aux Folles last year.

Mystery productions present an intriguing additional dimension to the typical theatre experience—– the assignment of analyzing suspects and making predictions on the perpetrator and how they committed the crime keep audiences thinking throughout the show. This is not a “turn off your brain” night at the theatre the way that shows like Romeo and Juliet or Disney’s Frozen are. Director Jeff Brown’s rendition has the audience’s minds gripped and at attention without being too taxing, allowing this whodunit to remain thoroughly enjoyable.

Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest runs until Feb. 8 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are on sale at cost between $14 to $24. Online ticketing is available at lbplayhouse.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 494-1014.