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Michele Tauber and Robert K. Johansen in <i>The Unexpected Guest</i>. Photo by Alex Ottaviano
Michele Tauber and Robert K. Johansen in The Unexpected Guest. Photo by Alex Ottaviano

Theatre review: The Unexpected Guest at Syracuse Stage

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The Unexpected Guest is the final offering of the season at Syracuse Stage and runs through June 10. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng attended a recent performance and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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Because of schedule conflicts I got to THE UNEXPECTED GUEST late in the run, so you only have about ten days left to see this excellent production of Agatha Christie's classic whodunit.  Set in South Wales in the late 1950s, the play opens with the entrance of Michael Starkwedder whose car has crashed in the fog.  He's looking for a phone, but instead discovers a dead body in a wheelchair.  As the play continues we meet all the residents of the house and, in typical Christie style, suspect each of them in turn of the shooting.

Russell Metheny's set has a gloomy air of foreboding and is filled with dark wood, old portraits and mounted big game trophies.  The upstage wall is almost entirely a high small-paned window with french doors that looks out on a narrow terrace and twisted trees.  This provides a nice canvas for designer Philip Monat to do some interesting lighting.

Junghyun Georgia Lee's costumes are good and right for the period.  The sound, designed by Jonathan Herter, adds a great deal to the atmosphere, particularly the fog horn, waves and chiming clock.  I also liked his music choices.

The cast is strong and balanced, and dialect coach Candace Taylor has done a nice job with the British accents.  Danny Gordon is good as the Sergeant and Anthony Marble is perfectly cast as the politician, Julian.

Richmond Hoxie is both shrewd and paternalistic as the Inspector, while Kathleen Huber is fine as the victim's mother, especially in Act II.

As Miss Bennett, Michele Tauber gives a nice believable performance, as does Robb Sapp as the unstable Jan.  Their scene together in Act II is especially good.  As Laura, the victim's widow, Genevieve Elam gives us a well-rounded three-dimensional character.

John G. Preston makes a very good Michael Starkwedder.  I enjoyed the twinkle in his eye and his educated eyebrows.  As Angell, the victim's male nurse, Robert K. Johansen gives a hilariously eccentric but believable performance.  He should get an award for the year's smarmiest character.

Director Robert Moss has done a fine job of staging and directing THE UNEXPECTED GUEST.  As he said, "Almost all the characters are lying about something, and you have to constantly remember . . . what you want the audience to know at this or that moment."  Well, he keeps the audience guessing, right up to the remarkable twist at the end.  As G. K. Chesterton says in an essay in the program, "The climax must not only be the bursting of a bubble but rather the breaking of a dawn."  In this case dawn doesn't break until the last three minutes of the play.

On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage/Indiana Repertory Theatre co-production of THE UNEXPECTED GUEST gets four and three-fourths oranges.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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