By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Heights Players at 26 Willow Place, we were transferred to England in one of the most unusual plays written by Agatha Christie.
It is an original play in two acts written in 1958, and has some personal asides. Here, I quote the author: “It was a play that concerned murder, but its real background and point is that an idealist is always dangerous, a possible destroyer of those who love him and poses the question of how far you can sacrifice, not yourself, but those you love, to what you believe in, even though they do not.”
Two scenes in the first act take place in the home of Professor Karl Hendryk. Lester Cole, a young assistant to Dr. Hendryk, was played by Cameron McIntosh with adolescent curiosity evocative of young reporter Jimmy Olson in Superman.
Mrs. Roper was in the capable hands of Beverly Gregory, who evoked the many famed actresses of this genre.
The mysterious Lisa Koletzsky, the long-suffering assistant to Professor Karl Hendryk and the cousin and caretaker of his longtime invalid wife, was played by Ashley Voos, whose balance of Teutonic intrigue and imploding persona was outstanding. The final scene where she becomes free both from the trial and her longtime secret love Hendryk was riveting!
Professor Hendryk himself was brought to life by Raymond O. Wagner, whose transition from idealistic and revered professor to a stubborn wretch of a man-mouse rivaled the professor in the classic Marlene Dietrich film “The Blue Angel.” His attempts to cover up his wife’s murder by his student admirer stretched humane largesse to the core. His speech to his love-struck student -- “We don’t change, life does something to us ... all those things form a crust over the real self ... but the real self is still there” -- is really the voice of Agatha Christie, who witnessed both World Wars and a collapsed first marriage, followed by a happy second one with a man 14 years her junior.
Dr. Stoner, friend to Professor Hendryk and doctor to Mrs. Hendryk, was vividly played by Bernard Feinerman, whose balance of resonance and eloquence made his lines food for the soul and melody to the ear. We hear the words of Agatha Christie in Dr. Stoner’s strong speech extolling the virtues of mature love and the depth of feeling that exists. We all became that young Lester Cole, drinking in the wisdom and nobility of those sublime lines as spoken by Dr. Stoner.
Anya Hendryk was given a strong portrayal by Rose Ortiz. With Ms. Ortiz’s sympathetic portrayal, you felt her pain and suffering. Her lines softly stated showed the inner soul underneath this character, and her death was understated and eerily natural.
Helen Rollander, the vamp, was brilliantly brought to life by Jessica Giannone. Ms. Rollander’s desires for Professor Hendryk led to her poisoning his wife, thinking she was doing him a favor. Here was a young spoiled woman with a prominent wealthy father, who represented “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets” to the core. Her twisted logic of “stud” rather than “study” threw the learned professor off balance.
Sir William Rollander was given a colorful performance by David Shakopi. His pledge of dollars to bring Anya Hendryk's health back with new experimental procedures was the ultimate bribe to have his daughter to become Professor Hendryk’s student. The professor relented from his original “I can never be bribed” to “an offer that cannot be refused.” Shapkopi was in superb Donald Trump mode in a bravura performance.
Detective Inspector Ogden was wonderfully played by Lucy Apicello, whose dislike for Lisa Koletzky was obvious. Her inquisitional clipped tone suggested the Gestapo. Inspector Ogden’s showing the newspaper headline of Helen Rollander’s death by walking in front of a truck practically sealed Lisa’s fate, making her the murderer.
Police Sergeant Pearce, her assistant, was played with enthusiasm and relish by Ethan M. Labourdette.
The “will she or will she not return to Professor Hendryk” ending will have you at the edge of your seat. See it for yourself!
The director was multi-talented Noel MacDuffie whose stage knowledge gave a fluid, tense, well-paced performance that smoothly took us into this terse drama with some “Casablanca”-like undertones and unexpected turns in the road. The sets and lights by MacDuffie also greatly set the tone and mood. Plaudits to Ms. Gargi Shinde, his assistant. The excellent costumes by Ms. Ayano Ganaha hinted of the exotic for the women and the Mittel-European for the men.
Plaudits also to stage manager Tom Kane and Lenny Trovato, who gave us a few bars of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and other sound effects supreme.
The next performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16, 17 and 18. Next production will be Miracle on 34th Street beginning Nov. 30 at the newly named John Bourne Theatre at theheightsplayers.org or call (718) 237-2752.