Heidi Armbruster Delivers Classic Christie
by Lynne Stevens
Almost a century since her 11-day disappearance in 1926, the time is right for prolific mystery writer Agatha Christie to have her own personal mystery examined in a charming and breezy play.
Decades later at a Christie Festival, fan Lucy (exuberant Nicole Javier) asks, “Do you know how hard it is to just walk out of your own life?” She marvels at how Mrs. Christie managed to go away without anyone knowing where she was, leaving the British public to wonder if her husband had killed her.
Haughty World War I hero Archie Christie (commanding Aldo Billingslea) and Agatha have not been getting along and he is spending time with someone else. Verbal sparring with Agatha is getting them nowhere. Archie wants a divorce.
Agatha (versatile Jennifer Le Blanc) settles into a room at the Old Swan Hotel adjacent to the Harrogate Hydrospa. A large claw-foot tub decorated with waves serves as a swimming pool for Agatha and her famous character Hercule Poirot (clever William Thomas Hodgson). Hodgson embodies the voice of Belgian-accented reason for Agatha as she ruminates over her muddle.
Scenic Designer Christopher Fitzer has created revolving bookcases at Christie’s home, and Magritte-like windows that open to clouds.
As modern-day Christie fan Lucy searches for Christie’s missing Notebook, playwright Armbruster weaves in parallel story lines blending past, present, and future, Lucy faces a crisis in her life as she searches for clues at Christie ‘s home.
William (charming Max Tachis) flirts with Lucy and suggests that Notebook #74 could lead to a missing Christie manuscript. The pair dance together suggestively—until Lucy breaks away with a copy of the elusive notebook. Tachis is also delightful as the rubbery Collins, the publisher, plotting to get Christie’s signature on a contract.
Christie’s women stick up for each other. Agatha has her secretary and confidante Charlotte (supportive Elissa Beth Stebbins). Lucy has her Chloe (sisterly Kina Kantor), who helps Lucy in her present-day quest.
Lucy also has Jane (quirky Lucinda Hitchcock Cone), a much older Christie fan, whom she ridicules, but Jane guides her. “One of the gifts of being elderly is that everyone underestimates you,” says Jane, sending William on a fool’s errand so she and Lucy can escape to London.
Costume Designer Cathleen Edwards has done a terrific job outfitting the whole cast. Jane is done up like Miss Marple, complete with knitting in her bag. And where did Edwards get those cover-everything bathing costumes from the 20s?
With a touch of magical realism, Poirot, a fictional Christie character since 1920, appears as Christie’s confidant and squabbles with her while she mopes at the Hydrospa. At other times, characters from the past sit motionless in the present.
In typical Christie fashion, Le Blanc’s Agatha re-enacts possible scenarios of what may have started the whole adventure. She leaves us smiling. It’s well worth a trip to TheatreWorks to see how she does it.
“Mrs. Christie” by Heidi Armbruster, directed by Giovanna Sardelli, at TheatreWorks: Silicon Valley, in Mountain View, California. Info: theatreworks.org – to October 29, 2023.
Cast: Jennifer Le Blanc, Elissa Beth Stebbins, Aldo Billingslea, Kina Kantor, Nicole Javier, Max Tachis, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, and William Thomas Hodgson.
Banner photo: Charlotte (Elissa Beth Stebbins) dotes on Peter (Anubis) escorted by Nancy (Kina Kantor) and Archie (Aldo Billingslea), as Agatha (Jennifer Le Blanc) reunites with her precious pooch. Photos by Kevin Berne