ANNA MARIA – It was a dark and stormy night as the Island Players performed “The Unexpected Guest,” a murder mystery from the pen of Agatha Christie, on Thursday, Sept. 20.
Flashes of lightning and the booms and crackles of thunder from a storm outside permeated the performance, adding to the murder mystery ambiance. At one time, the power failed and the lights went out briefly as emergency lights on both sides of the stage replaced them.
And what a show it was as they opened the 70th season of Manatee County’s oldest dramatic troupe. The first show was well paced and well played by the cast.
Director Heiko Knipfelberg also had a lead part in the play as Michael Starkwedder, a traveler who drove off the road during a heavy fog and entered the home of Richard Warwick, played by Jack Abene, who sat in his wheelchair dead from a bullet. His wife, Laura, played by Island Players President Sylvia Marnie, told Starkwedder she had murdered her abusive husband, a hunter who liked to shoot at wild animals and pets that strayed onto his property. Knipfelberg and Marnie worked well together, setting the stage for the rest of the story. Both are talented veterans of the Island Players’ stage and their performances were flawless.
After hearing a dazed Laura Warwick’s story, Starkwedder went to work, planting items in the room and wiping some items of fingerprints so the detectives would be persuaded to shift the blame to one of the other characters living in the house in Britain. He said he did it because he didn’t want to see a pretty woman go to prison.
A note about the play’s British heritage – every one of the characters had believable accents. There’s nothing more distracting than listening to a performer drop his or her accent.
Enter Inspector Thomas, played by Daniel Coppinger. He was great as a veteran investigator who pushed for answers. He was upstaged at times by Kristin Mazzitelli, who played Sergeant Cadwaller. She was hilarious as his aide, taking notes and answering the phone.
Valerie Lipscomb as Miss Bennett, Colin Brady as Henry Angell and Caroline Cox as Mrs. Warwick played their roles well, and Mark Shoemaker, who entered late, was great as a romantic interest.
There was one performance that outshined them all. Jeffrey Steiger played Jan Warwick, the deceased son who had “special” mental needs. His performance was real, and real scary at times. It alone is worth the price of a ticket.
There is a surprise ending, of course, but you’ll have to see it yourself.
On that magical night as the Island Players’ 70th season began, “The Unexpected Guest,” co-produced by Bortells Lounge, is an example of why people keep coming back to the little playhouse on the Island.
For tickets, call the ticket office at 941-778-5755, or go online.