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‘The Unexpected Guest’ is most welcome at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Adam Czarnecki and Shea-Lynn Imler star in Laurel Mill Playhouse's production of "The Unexpected Guest."
Adam Czarnecki and Shea-Lynn Imler star in Laurel Mill Playhouse's production of "The Unexpected Guest." (HANDOUT)

The timeless spirit of one of the most famous crime writers in history never travels far from Laurel’s little theater on Main Street, and its current production of Dame Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest,” offers entertainment in classic whodunnit style at Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Produced and directed by Playhouse veterans Maureen Rogers and Larry Simmons, respectively, the play opens to the rich colors of an elegant set (designed by hands-on director Simmons and Mark T. Allen) and a visually exciting stage composition made even more striking by Simmons and Lori Brunn’s lighting design.

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Sound (by Simmons), set decoration (Simmons and his wife, Diana) and handsome costumes (Marge McGugan) mesh beautifully.

As eerie hues rise through stage fog to the darkened interior of a drawing room at the play’s start, a mysterious stranger arrives to discover the corpse of Charles Warwick, his dazed wife and a literal smoking gun.

Amateur sleuths attending closely to the exposition in the dialogue may suspect “who dunnit” early on, but even the savviest fans should waver as a labyrinth of tangled clues, dark family secrets and a tragic ghost from the past provide fodder for wonderful performances.

Shealynn Imler as Laura Warwick and Adam Czarnecki as Michael Starkwedder capture their audience immediately, creating just a hint of sexual attraction (with British reserve, of course).

Dazed and claiming to have shot her husband basically because he was a cruel beast, Imler epitomizes the British stiff upper lip. And Czarnecki as Starkwedder, who offers to help her cover up her part in the murder, is delightfully enigmatic and dashing.

Together they set a high bar in attitude and execution, and all the actors’ accents ring true without credit to a dialect coach.

Emma Jensen appears as Miss Bennett, the stalwart housekeeper and protectress of family secrets who shines in Act 3. Jim Berard as Angell, the deceased Warwick’s caretaker, is consistently creepy and definitively guilty of something; he makes an attractive murder suspect.

Allen — who previously directed Christie’s “Black Coffee,” “The Hollow” and “And Then There Were None” at the Playhouse — delivers as stellar an Inspector Thomas as one would expect from a veteran thespian and Christie enthusiast.

Christopher Kess also performs well as Sergeant Cadwallader.

Delightful as always, Maureen Rogers rocks every moment she’s onstage as the frail Mrs. Warwick, the victim’s mother and a lady with secrets of her own.

But Kyle Kelley as Jan Warwick, the challenged brother of the deceased, is the standout. Kelley brings wonderful depth to his character; his facial expressions, physicality and characterization are outstanding, and he carries much of the understated humor.

Three acts appear to fly fast in this charming rendition of “The Unexpected Guest,” where Laurel Mill Playhouse guests can expect to spend an intriguing evening challenged by a murder mystery unraveling across the pond.

“The Unexpected Guest” continues through Feb. 2 at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 are at 2 p.m. General admission is $20; active duty military, students (ages 12 and younger) and seniors (ages 65 and older) pay $15. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.

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