Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution opens NAT’s 31st season

Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution opens NAT’s 31st season

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

Openings bring together old friends, and NAT’s first production of the 2002-03 season was no exception. Joan and Carl Kole were there. It is good to see his recovery from a bad fall. Jim Radloff, back from a successful summer at Seaside Theatre in Daytona, leaves again for a November appearance in another Chuck Hoenes’ venue. The opening night regulars filled the house, including Shirley Whitmore and Gary Wingert and his charming wife, who sat in front of us. He is cast in the upcoming Harvey. One other note—long-time friend Charles Clyburn and his wife leave our community this month. Moving to Maryland where their children live, they will be much missed. Charles has served on the board of NAT and directed Eboné Community Theatre. Appearing often in NAT productions, his talent and ability to work with children in the Rockford School District is a great loss to all.

On to the show…. In many reviews, my delight with mystery has been obvious. Books of the genre crowd the shelves of my house in Rockford and at the lake. A weekly trip to the Rockton Branch Library fills the gaps. Agatha Christie first published Witness for the Prosecution in 1933. Published again in 1953, it was staged in London and New York, then made into a movie in 1957 with Marlene Dietrich as the mysterious witness and Tyrone Power as her husband, the accused.

Richard Raether’s ability to choose the appropriate actor for a specific role continues. David Lively, as the British defense attorney, displays the dry wit and perfect elocution of the English upper class. Gail Dartez, as Romaine, the German-born wife of the seemingly naive Leonard Vole (Keith Conway) conceals the essence of the mystery with her icy characterization. Long-time favorite, Jan Bacino as Janet Mackenzie, delights the audience with her ability to portray the aged, cranky housekeeper determined to sway the jury. W. Alan Williams’ costumes, especially those of Bacino and Dartez, recreate the elegance of the ’30s. Gloves and purses, essential to a lady’s wardrobe, become props used to enhance their performance.

One of my favorite moments on entering the theater is the first view of the set. My admiration for those who build and find ways of changing the scene increases with every production. Janine Vreatt in her second season as NAT’s scenic designer, works with Bob Keifer and Tanner Thompson, who as she says, “bring her drawings to life.” The massive bookcases of the attorney’s offices become the paneled walls of the courtroom. Minimal changes of props bring authenticity to the stage.

In supporting roles, Nathan Fleming, David A. Gingerich, Elizabeth A. Hartman, Jack Rabito, Casiena Raether, Jordan Reeves, and Ken Staaf complete an outstanding cast. R. John Roberts, an experienced actor and director, comes to NAT from the Summer Shakespeare Theatre at Notre Dame. As Myers, the defense attorney, his quirky personality is perfect for the role, evoking moments of high comedy.

Playing through October 20, Witness for the Prosecution provides an evening of fine entertainment. We were warned by Richard Raether not to reveal the surprising climax, but he added, “Do tell your friends to come see the show.”

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