Review: 'Web' weaves mystery

11:30 PM CDT on Saturday, July 31, 2004

By TOM SIME / The Dallas Morning News

ADDISON -- Agatha Christie's Spider's Web was turned into a novel by Charles Osborne recently. But Rover Dramawerks' production allows us to see the tale as originally imagined.

The production, seen Saturday at Addison Conference and Theatre Centre, proves quite serviceable. It's got a solid cast, more than a few laughs, a decent set and plenty of jolly good screaming. Not to mention Ms. Christie's crisp, efficient script, which would have a drawing-room comedy feel if not for the corpse.

Jessica Wiggers plays Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, second wife of diplomat Henry Hailsham-Brown (David Brown) and stepmother to his daughter Pippa (Samantha Cross).

Clarissa is "a young woman with a very vivid imagination," and she is prone-given the slow pace of country life in Kent and a husband "dull as dishwater"-- to extravagant speculations. These include a game she calls "Supposing," as in "supposing I were to walk in and find a dead body in my house." When she does just that, it's hard to convince her friends she's not just playing.

So this appears to be not so much a whodunit as a what-are-they-going-to-do-about-it. Clarissa enlists her friends -- three country gents played by Doug Luke, Michael Roe and Matthew Johnston -- to cover up the murder to protect her husband from infamy. Meanwhile, well-intentioned servants, including the butler, Elgin (Lee Irving), and the gardener who "comes with the house," Miss Peake (Shalitras Flowers), keep mucking things up by telling the truth.

The cast does a reasonable job with the English accents, and makes a pretty convincing lineup of suspects. The most suspicious of all, a drug dealer named Costello (Mike Sturlin), is out of the running pretty quickly.

There are a few tricks up the sleeve of Julie Dempsey's set, such as a secret passage and an antique desk with a hidden drawer. It all helps Clarissa learn firsthand the meaning of that old saying about tangled webs that gives the play its title. Clarissa's used to getting by on charm, and Ms. Wiggers does a nice job of laying it on.

Clarissa meets her match in Rich Hancock as the inevitable inspector. He sees right through her, but somehow is charmed anyway-at least enough to be increasingly exasperated, which proves amusing.

Director Misty Baptiste sometimes lets the rhythm go slack, but the play is for the most part breezy, and strikes the right balance of lightness and suspense. It's all, like the Hailsham-Browns, terribly respectable.

E-mail tsime@dallasnews.com

Spider's Web presented by Rover Dramawerks in the Studio Theatre, Addison Conference and Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, through Aug. 21. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. $12 to $16, with discounts for students and seniors. Runs 150 min. Call 972-849-0358.



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