I couldn't possibly begin to describe the plot of this play, since at intermission I felt about as befuddled as poor Lady Caterham, owner of the Manor. Our protagonist is a man called Anthony Cade, who, whilst leading a tour group in South Africa, agrees to help out a friend by delivering a manuscript to a publisher in London, and a bundle of incriminating letters to a lady at Chimney Manor. This leads him to that estate, and from there many more characters and plot points are piled on - there's a succession problem in the fictional country of Herzoslovakia, a jewel theft, a murder, a wealthy Lady and her flirtatious daughter, several detectives from various countries, and hidden passages. The first act is very exposition-heavy and perhaps could have been laid out better, although I don't know how with all of these plot points to cover. Perhaps a diagram in the program would be helpful. But if you hang in there, it all comes together in a satisfying way in the second act.
|Lady Caterham (Kristen Mathison) and her daughter|
Bundle (Hailey Zeissler, photo by Emily Fell)
The story takes place in multiple locations and countries, all represented on the in-the-round space with interchangeable furniture and several short columns. Set pieces are moved around and rearranged frequently, often using the columns as a base for tables, which leads to some clunky scene transitions. The windows of the manor surround the space and are lit up at key moments, and roses on vines curl around the posts (which turns out to be not just an aesthetic choice, but an important plot point). Characters are dressed in period and character appropriate clothing. (Set design by Madeline Achen and costume design by Dab Murphy.)
This isn't my favorite of the several Agatha Christie plays I've seen in recent years, and doesn't seem as tightly plotted, but rather a bunch of meandering threads that eventually are knit together into an ending. But it includes many of the same delightful elements - clues and red herrings, people who aren't who we think they are, and a smart detective to figure it all out and explain it to everyone.
The Secret of Chimney Manor continues through December 17 at the oldest theater in Minneapolis - Theatre in the Round in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.