Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, comes to the stage for the first time at Hedgerow Theatre from March 17 to May 8in a world-premiere adaptation by Artistic Director Jared Reed. The work, written in 1916 and published in 1920, introduced the world to Hercule Poirot, who’s been called “one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.”
The story takes place at an estate outside London, Styles Court, owned by Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy heiress recently remarried to her much younger husband, Alfred, believed by some to be a fortune hunter. Also in residence are her two stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife, Mary; Cynthia Murdoch, the orphaned daughter of a family friend; Evelyn Howard, Emily’s assistant; Dorcas, the maid; and Capt. Arthur Hastings, recuperating from injuries received in World War I, who’s just arrived to visit his friend John. On the morning after Emily has been overheard arguing with an unidentified person, she is found dying from strychnine poisoning. Because there are so many possible suspects, Hastings enlists the help of his friend Poirot, the ace Belgian detective recently relocated to England because of the war, to help solve the case.
Agatha Christie plays have long been a mainstay and quite popular at Hedgerow, but this one is unique for several reasons.“It’s the very first Hercule Poirot mystery, and it has never been performed onstage,” said Reed, a Juilliard graduate who is also directing the production. “He [Poirot] is insufferable! He’s cute and brilliant and pompous. We’ve been waiting to adapt this story for years.” Reed has adapted several plays over the years such as The Odyssey, The Iliad, and most recently Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Christie has presented somewhat of a challenge for him, as her attention to detail makes it difficult to modify.“You approach the work carefully,” he explained. “The hard part was in trying to get the length down without cutting plot points. It’s really amazing with Christie: everything is needed, whether it’s a clue or a red herring.”
Zoran Kovcic is Poirot, a role he first played in 1993. The Rose Valley resident has acted and designed and built sets at Hedgerow for more than 20 years. Stacy Skinner of Media, whose previous roles include Gertrude in Hamlet, portrays Emily. Ned Pryce, a University of the Arts graduate who played Jonathan Harker in Dracula, makes his second Hedgerow appearance as John Cavendish. Company member Shaun Yates, a Texas native who now lives in Bryn Mawr, is Hastings. Hedgerow Fellow Allison Bloechl and company member Brock D. Vickers, currently earning rave reviews for their multiple roles in Or, are Evelyn and Lawrence. Fellow Mark Swift, who was Renfield in Dracula, plays Alfred, and Fellow Josh Portera (Otto inBullshot Crummond) portrays several characters, including toxicologist Dr. Bauerstein. Longtime company member Susan Wefel is Dorcas.
There are also two local actors making their Hedgerow debuts. Emily Parker, originally from Somerville, N.J., was invited to audition by fellow Muhlenberg College alums Bloechl and and Portera, and was cast as Cynthia. Bonnie Baldini, a graduate of Upper Darby High School and Temple University, is Mary. They both currently reside in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia.
. Hedgerow Theatre is America’s first repertory theatre, founded in 1923. It is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).