Witness for the Prosecution Review - Agatha Christie at her Best

Who-done-it author and playwright Agatha Christie is at the top of her game in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. Based on her own short story first published as “Traitor Hands” in 1925 in an English weekly magazine, Christie took almost 30 years to adapt her story to the stage. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION opened in London in 1953 and in New York in 1954, meeting with immediate and resounding success. So much so, in fact, that the play was subsequently adapted for the screen by Larry Marcus, Harry Kurnitz, and Billy Wilder. The 1957 film starred Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton and continued to delight audiences. Several adaptations have also been aired on television. The mistress of deft plot twists and turns, Christie has crafted a story which is both gripping and timeless. 

Larry Eisenberg as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Michele Schultz as Mrs. Mayhew, and Salome Jens as Romaine Vole - Photo by Troy Whitaker

Unemployed inventor Leonard Vole (Patrick Skelton) is having a good year and a bad year. When he met the elderly, lonely, and very rich widow Emily French, his fortunes picked up. Even though married to Romaine (Salome Jens), the charming Leonard developed a close relationship with the widow – until her bloody corpse was discovered in her home. As it turns out, he is the primary heir to her fortune. But as it also turns out, he stands accused of murdering her.

Larry Eisenberg, Lloyd Pedersen as Justice Wainwright, Mikel Parraga-Wills as Court Clerk, and Patrick Skelton as Leonard Vole - Photo by Troy Whitaker

Enter renowned English barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Larry Eisenberg) and his partner Mrs. Mayhew (Michele Schultz), who are called upon to defend Leonard. His alibi for the time of the murder happens to be his devoted wife Romaine – so why has she been called to testify as a witness for the prosecution, rather than for the defense? Thereby hangs the fascinating courtroom tale.

Michele Schultz, Larry Eisenberg, and Patrick Skelton - Photo by Troy Whitaker

The Group Rep has made a few intriguing changes to the original play. Sir Wilfrid Robarts’ partner Mayhew was written as a male role – but has been transformed into a female role in this version (perhaps in deference to Margaret Thatcher, who began her career as an attorney). In addition, Leonard and Romaine are older than they were in past productions.  Both changes have proven highly effective and added dimension to the story. It should be noted that director Aaron kept the original two intermissions in this rendering.

Lloyd Pedersen, Chris Winfield as Mr. Meyers, Patrick Skelton, and Sherry Michaels as Janet Mackenzie - Photo by Troy Whitaker

Special kudos are in order for the formidable acting by the entire cast, especially Larry Eisenberg and Salome Jens. Each performer really got into his role with enthusiasm and a keen understanding of the character. Kudos are also in order for director Jules Aaron, who adroitly supervises 16 actors in a huge production which has been telescoped into the far smaller confines of the available theater space.

Witness for the Prosecution Cast and Crew during Q&A - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

J. Kent Inasy’s set is brilliant, cleverly rolling between scenes speedily and efficiently. Angela M. Eads’ costumes, J. Kent Inasy’s lighting, and Steve Shaw’s sound worked well to enhance the presentation. The entire production team obviously worked tirelessly to bring WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION to vivid life. During a Q&A after the play, it became obvious that each member of the team worked together and “went the extra mile” to make this happen. This is a must-see production.

Witness for the Prosecution Cast and Crew during Q&A - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION runs through March 26, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 with discounts for students, seniors, and groups. For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online

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