Through Sun 3/10
Most people might hesitate to be chosen for jury duty. But at the Hanna Theatre during the run of Witness for the Prosecution, it’s an entertaining option for brave audience members who wish to volunteer for onstage seating. Great Lakes Theater’s artistic director Charles Fee directs this latest incarnation of Agatha Christie’s 1953 drama. (The most famous version of Witness may be the 1957 film version starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton).
Everything takes place on a thoughtfully designed set by Gage Williams that allows for an imposing courtroom. Lighting by Rick Martin allows us to see (when needed) a front extension of the stage as office space for the defendant’s lawyers. The production enjoys stylish touches added by costumes by Esther M. Haverlen, and makeup and wig design by Christina Cerezo.
A lot of the fun in this drama hinges on deciding who is telling the truth (or if anyone is). A young man in his 20s, Leonard Vole (winningly portrayed by Taha Mandviwala), is on trial for the murder of an “elderly” and very wealthy woman he befriended. (“Elderly” is in quotes here because it’s made clear that she was in her mid-50s — a fact which elicited laughs from some in the audience who [evidently] didn’t realize they were “elderly” yet.)
Various figures take the stand as the arguments for the defense and prosecution bounce back and forth in front of Mr. Justice Wainwright (David Anthony Smith). Smith’s clever judge has probably seen it all — until now. Other actors who play a major role as they skillfully propel the story include Jodi Dominick as the defendant’s sizzling hot wife and Jillian Kates as strong-willed Janet MacKenzie, the murdered old woman’s fiercely loyal housekeeper.
Lawyers include Nick Steen as the hard-working prosecutor, Mr. Myers, Q.C,. while the defense is represented by Aled Davies as the confident Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Q. C., and Lynn Robert Berg as his deferential assistant Mr. Mayhew.
It would be unfair to say more about Christie’s cleverly plotted story because deciding who is a liar and who is not and what really happened is half the fun.
BOTTOM LINE: An old-fashioned talky courtroom drama, well-executed by a good cast in both major and minor roles. The play itself, however, seems extremely sedate as written and so despite some rather well-done high drama that flares out all too briefly, I want more.