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Theater review: Coach House opens 90th season with vintage Christie radio dramas

From Ohio.com:

Coming next: Radio drama Butter in a Lordly Dish

Where: Coach House Theatre at the Akron Woman’s City Club, 732 W. Exchange St.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1 p.m. matinee Sept. 23

Cost: $10 for show only, $35 for dinner and show

Information: www.coachhousetheatre.com/shows/118/ for Brown Paper Tickets order or call 330-434-7741

The live Agatha Christie radio play Yellow Iris made for a fun vintage evening as the drama played out in the elegant, wood-paneled ballroom of the Akron Woman’s City Club on Thursday night.

Yellow Iris was the second of three radio plays to be performed live over three weeks to open the 90th season for Coach House Theatre. The plays, directed by three young female directors, are classic 1940s BBC radio mysteries that were believed to have been lost.

Coach House now has the distinction of being the first nonprofit theater in the world to present the three plays, together called Murder in the Studio. And it’s the second theater, after a professional 2013 production in Clearwater, Fla., to perform the scripts live since their rediscovery in the archives of a London library.

The beautiful ballroom setting is a nice change of pace for the performances, which can be coupled with dinner or seen on a show-only basis. New artistic director JT Buck’s goal is to strengthen the partnership between the community theater and its parent organization, the Akron Woman’s City Club, as well as celebrate a longstanding tradition of producing Christie plays at the theater.

On Thursday night, those who came for the show only had some awkward seating choices, with chairs lined up against the side walls of the ballroom and dining tables in the middle. That left some obstructed seating and some hovering behind dining tables. Open tables left in the ballroom provided much more comfortable seating with good sight lines.

Yellow Iris, directed by Francine Parr of Akron’s Millennial Theatre Project, featured five actors bringing to life an enjoyable murder mystery with detective Hercule Poirot. The actors, dressed in vintage-looking skirts, jackets, suits and hats, walked around and mingled with the diners a bit before the show’s start.

One of the beauties of presenting a radio show, in this case, was that middle-aged actresses could portray young women. They included Michele McNeal as the sultry, deep-voiced Peruvian dancer Senora Valdez and Cathy Csanyi as the 20-year-old Pauline Weatherby.

Joining them were Ryan Dyke as Poirot, a strong actor with a good French accent; Molly Clay playing a waiter and Tony; and Luke Ehlert as party host Barton as well as his friend, Carter. The actors held their scripts and spoke into a stand-up microphone just as they would have in a 1940s radio show.

In this story, the American Barton has arranged a dinner party at the hotel Jardin des Cygnes under mysterious circumstances. A woman calls Poirot in distress and asks him to come help her, but doesn’t identify herself.

Detective Poirot shows up determined to get to the bottom of things, and with his sixth sense, starts sniffing out clues. The tension mounts heading into what appears to be a re-enactment of a tragic event four years earlier.

Most of the five actors created distinct characterizations, but it was at times difficult to determine whether Ehlert was delivering the lines of Barton or Carter, which created a temporary disconnect following the story elements. Csanyi also was guilty of speaking with unnatural-sounding inflection and sounding artificial when her character Pauline was distressed.

Adding to the old-fashioned ambience were Chalker Conrad’s live radio sound effects, including a ringing bell, phone and some drums. And Buck himself played the grand piano and sang a bit during lovely musical interludes.

Buck has created a fun concept, kicking off the season in this style at the club, starting with Miranda Dolson’s direction of Personal Call last weekend. The run will wrap up Thursday through Sept. 23 with the third radio drama, Butter in a Lordly Dish, directed by Rosilyn Jentner. In this story, prosecution barrister Sir Luke Enderby gets his comeuppance in gruesome Christie murder.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected].


About The Author

Born to Teachers and Amateur Audio Enthusiasts in the small rural community of Belwood, Jack's first love was stories- writing, reading, telling, and singing. He developed his acting skills through High School, University, and through film and community theatre. Jack writes the lion's share of Electric Vicuna's Audio Drama scripts and has his own writing site at www.jackjward.com He's thrilled to co-host the Sonic Society with his wonderful, talented, friend David Ault!

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