If you are interested in a play loaded with high mystery, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s “The Secret of Chimneys” running in the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North
Hollywood Arts District through May 5th.
This is the story of a cosmopolitan adventurer who uncovers murder, mayhem and madness at an English country house under the watchful eye of both Scotland Yard and the French Surete.
Yes, at times the play is hard to follow and often it seems that there are more characters on stage at the same time than the eye can swallow, but this is Christie at her most playful, jovial and genuine.
Comedy seeps from the pores of this whodunit like sweat or blood.
This play was originally published in the United Kingdom in June of 1925. It was then adapted into a stage play in 1931.
Its planned production, however, was cancelled until finally making its world premiere in Canada in 2003.
This is epic Christie. More sincere than a pet Saint Bernard, as clever as the wisest crime solver and more surprising than a hot day in the middle of Winter.
This may not be Christie’s strongest work, but the potential for something special is more than readily apparent.
The writing shimmers like a brand new dime, the lead characters are fully developed complete with spine, sawdust and cigarettes, and the story makes more and more sense as it unwinds like a ribbon in the sun.
The English author known mostly for her detective novels and short story collections, is the best-selling novelist of all time, according to The Guiness Book of World Records, with roughly two billion of her novels sold
Most of her works have been adapted into various television, radio and cinematic pieces, including over 30 feature films based on her writing.
Director Jules Aaron allows the actors to be themselves without losing control. He knows this to be a comedy of manners and helps each performer walk the tightrope between spontaneity and duty to the script.
Aaron shines here because he makes the very most out of what could have been, in lesser hands, a muddied mess.
Aaron has won more than forty awards around the country for his direction. This is his fifth show at The Group Repertory Theatre, the last being the award-winning “Deathtrap.”
The director has assembled a gifted cast of 11 actors that comprehend Christie’s language and mannerisms.
Stand outs include:
Lee Grober (Anthony Cade) who gives a convincing turn as a monarch from Herzoslovakia. His energy, wit and intelligence are on full display as this stage and screen actor makes his Group Repertory Theatre debut.
Stasha Surdyke (Virginia Revel) almost runs away with the play with a portrayal that grows more intense with each given moment. Both sexy and wise beyond her years, the stage and screen actress’s stage
awareness and femininity guide this seamless and compelling piece of work. There is no other way to say it: Surdyke comes alive on stage like a thoroughbred galloping or a cheetah sprinting.
But it is Daniel Lench (Superintendent Battle) who steals the show with a intense, electric and spot-on characterization.The stage and screen veteran plays his character seamlessly from beginning to end with enough
pride, gusto and improvisational ability and freedom to be a one man Scotland Yard. He brilliantly intertwines himself with the other actors so you do not even notice it when he is gone, until you really do.
Never has a character been more wonderfully British in a British play.
This critic hopes to see Lench on the boards of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Also furthering the message of the play are co-artistic director Chris Winfield’s potent and intimate set design, Addison Calvin’s innovative light design, Steve Shaw’s rich sound design and Angela M. Eads’ sumptuous
and enthralling costume design.
In the end, “The Secret of Chimneys” succeeds because of, not despite, its downright naked humanity. Say what you will about the plot or story, the writing, direction and performances make for a inspiring,
enlightening and educational evening that is all Christie and nothing but.
The bold and brave choice to do this long-lost material rests squarely on the shoulders of Winfield and fellow artistic director Larry Eisenberg. It is a decision that once more shows how The Group Repertory Theatre
has left the days of community theatre fare far behind and scaled a new peak where the work is substantive, appealing, mainstream and commercial, without losing its artistic edge.
This undertaking once more vaults this acting company into the upper echelon of theatre ensembles in Los Angeles and beyond.
The time is now for this company to shine, and glimmer and glow it does, like a full moon over Burbank Boulevard.
Kudos to the spirit of Christie and all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book Critichttp://atthetheatrewithRadomirLuza.com
Showtimes:Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM,Sundays at 2:00 PM.Talk-back Sundays after matinees on April 7th and April 21st.Running Time: Approximately two hours and five minutes (including two ten minute intermissions)Tickets: Ages 13+, General Admission: $25.Students/Seniors with ID: $20.Groups 10+: $15. Reservations/Information: (818) 763-5990.WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre, Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601