Will Shaw Is Marvelous In The Kirkwood Theatre Guild's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

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WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION Image Credit: Kirkwood Theatre Guild, courtesy of Dani Mann

What can you say about Agatha Christie that hasn’t been said a thousand times? I mean, when your books are only outsold by the Holy Bible and that lousy hack William Shakespeare, that’s pretty much all there is to say. I’ve read a number of her stories, mostly the ones revolving around Hercule Poirot or Mrs. Marple. I have somehow managed to neither read WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION nor seen it performed until tonight, presented by The Kirkwood Theatre Guild. I don’t know what I was waiting for—I love a good courtroom drama.

For the uninitiated, or those who need a brief refresher, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is the case of Leonard Vole (Jeffrey M. Wright) accused of the murder of a doting elderly woman whom he had saved from being run over in the busy streets of London. He is represented by his solicitor Mr. Mayhew (David Hawley) and barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Q. C. (Will Shaw). The case seems simple enough—Mr. Vole claims to be innocent, his wife mostly claims the same, and the best witness for the prosecution is the late Mrs. Emily French’s hearing-impaired housekeeper, Janet Mackenzie (Julie Healey). Prosecuting barrister Mr. Myers, Q. C. (Ken Lopinot) also calls to the witness stand Inspector Hearne (Steve Garrett) of Scotland Yard, forensic expert Mr. Clegg (Jason Klefisch), coroner Dr. Wyatt (Richard Hunsaker) and in the requisite surprise twist, Vole’s own wife, Romaine (Heather Sartin), who may have more sinister motivations, Rounding out the cast are Robert O. Stevenson, Tim Callahan, Rahul Mehta, Kevin Arnold, James Twickler, NoreenAnn Rhodes, Anna Werner, Kris Mohler, Jim Wamser, Mike Bisch, Sally Sinclair, and the effervescent scene-stealer Annalise Webb as giddy Greta, the defense’s administrative assistant.  

Obviously, I’m not going to give away the court’s decision, because you should really see it for yourself. Director Dani Mann has assembled an incredible cast for this dialogue-heavy play that runs long enough for two intermissions yet left me wanting more. Merrick Mohler’s set design was outstanding, and the large crew involved in its creation deserves a portion of the standing ovation the Friday night audience offered to the cast. New Line Theatre regular Sarah Porter did an outstanding job costuming this large cast. David Hawley, an English playwright and actor born near the English/Scottish border, coached the actors with their accents, and they by and large did well holding the accents throughout the performance. Richard Hunsacker, who taught at Belleville West High School, was surely excited to share the stage with two of his former students in Will Shaw and Ken Lopinot. Julie Healey, Annalise Webb, and Heather Sartin were each mesmerizing in their own way. Healey’s dislike of Leonard Vole felt authentic while being outrageously comical. Webb’s bombastic presence kept the proceedings from becoming to oppressively grim. Sartin was realistically complex, arousing Mayhew’s and Robarts’ suspicion while skewering her husband’s defense to say nothing of his heart.

Leonard Vole is a very different role for one of St. Louis’ foremost leading men. If you’re wondering if you show go see any particular show and you see that Jeffrey Wright is in it, don’t hesitate to purchase your tickets. A tremendous actor and singer and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in any walk of life, Wright manages to use just about every emotional demonstration in an actor’s repertoire in just one show. Serious, scared, silly, outraged--whether it was a change to his pitch or the way he delivered a given line, his facial expressions, his body language, the guy can do it all and proves it here. I noticed at one point in the show when Romaine is on the stand that his right knee was bouncing rapidly. I do the same thing when I’m nervous. I found myself wondering if Wright was doing that on purpose or if he even realized he was doing it, and if Dani Mann had directed him to that level of detail or if he was “adlibbing” that physical trait that made Vole seem even more sympathetic to the audience.

It’s hard to really stand out in a big cast like WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION much less be equally as engaging as Jeffrey Wright. Yet that is exactly what Will Shaw accomplished. You may know him from KETC Channel 9 pledge drives, but if you haven’t seen him perform in a theatre setting, my friends, you are missing out. Using an accent somewhere between Sir Ian McKellen and William Hurt, Mr. Shaw delivers the lion’s share of the show’s dialogue and held my interest entirely. From polite small talk with Mr. Mayhew, questioning the Voles, bantering with giggling Greta or engaging in lawyerly repartee with Mr. Myers, Shaw as Barrister Robarts is an unforgettable tour de force and should not be missed. Sadly, there is precious little time left to see this masterful performance, as the run draws to a close this weekend. I will definitely be on the lookout for Will Shaw on St. Louis-area stages for now on. Bravo, sir!

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION runs March 10 – 19 at the spacious and comfortable Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center. For ticket information, please visit www.ktg.onstage.org or call (314) 821-9956. Allow me to I offer a little advice, if I may be so bold? If you are using Google Maps to find the theatre, please be cognizant of the address — 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood, MO 63122. If you simply enter “Robert G. Reim” and assume Google Maps will figure out the rest, you’ll likely find yourself in the driveway of Mr. Roger G. Reim’s home, as I did a mere 12 minutes before the start of the show. Fortunately, the theatre’s namesake doesn’t live too far away from the venue, and while I’m sure he’d be more than polite enough to pint you in the right direction, it only takes another second or two of typing to get you to your expected destination. Also, and this goes for every theatrical event you ever go to, turn off your cell phone. The March 12 performance was marred by eleven (11) disruptions from audible phone rings. That’s twelve too many. Fortunately, word of this sorry excuse for an audience made the rounds quickly in the St. Louis theatre scene, and the St. Patrick’s Day performance was blessedly free of noise pollution from the gallery. Trust me; you’ll enjoy WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION much more if you give it your undivided attention. You can always Google things you might not understand (like the word “cosh,” perhaps, meaning a bludgeon) when you get home. Thus endeth my soapbox soliloquy. Now go get tickets to this marvelous show! 

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0