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The Plays the Thing

Fish Creek, WI.  –  Peninsula Players Theatre will present a reading of “Go Back for Murder” by Agatha Christie, a thrilling whodunit from the Queen of Crime, at Björklunden, 7p.m., Monday, Feb. 2.  This play reading is produced with support from and in coordination with Door County Reads and its exploration of “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger.   Join the Players reading and travel back in time with Carla Le Marchant as she tries to prove her mother’s innocence in her father’s death. Admission is free.

“Go Back for Murder” weaves intrigue and murder through the unraveling of the past as only the incomparable Christie can.  Carla Le Merchant, just prior to her wedding, learns a disturbing family secret.  Her birth mother, Caroline Crale, died while in prison after being convicted of poisoning her father, a famous artist.

Carla learns of her legacy when she comes of age.  Prior to her death, Caroline wrote her daughter a letter professing her innocence.   Fifteen years later, Clara is compelled by this letter to leave her adoptive parent’s home in Canada and return to England to seek justice for her mother.  Clara enlists the help of Justin Fogg, the son of her mother’s defense attorney, who became infatuated with Caroline at her trial.

With Justin’s aid Clara locates and interviews the witnesses from that very eventful weekend in the country and persuades them to return to the scene of the crime to reenact their final moments with her father, Amyas Crale, to uncover the truth.

Amyas died while painting the portrait of his mistress, Elsa, at his and Caroline’s country home. In residence was Caroline’s sister Angela, a disfigured youth reluctantly preparing to leave for boarding school, and her devoted governess, Miss Williams.  Guests include two brothers, Philip and Meredith Blake, both of whom were once in love with Caroline and disapproved of Amyas’ intolerable behavior toward his long-suffering wife.

“In selecting a play to read in conjunction with ‘Ordinary Grace’ my thoughts went all over the place, as the book can be viewed from many different perspectives,” said Peninsula Players Artistic Director Greg Vinkler. “But when I read that William Kent Krueger characterized himself primarily as a murder mystery writer and ‘Ordinary Grace’ won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, I decided to favor that direction.

“When I came across ‘Go Back for Murder’ by Agatha Christie I felt it was the perfect theatrical companion piece to Krueger’s book. It too is a murder mystery seen through the eyes of a young person who tries to uncover truth by going back in time to look at past tragic events. And both Krueger’s narrator and Christie’s heroine do just that.

“The exciting thing about presenting ‘Go Back for Murder’ is that it is rarely done – not because it isn’t an excellent piece of writing, but because its scenic requirements are so complex few theatres are able to produce it. However, for an audience and their imagination, that helps make it a wonderful piece to be presented as a staged reading.”

An English crime novelist, playwright and short story writer, Christie created memorable literary characters such as Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence.  She wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections as well as six romances under the nom deplume of Mary Westmacott. Her works have been adapted into radio plays, film, television and the stage.

Christie is listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the best-selling novelist of all time, her book sales reaching two billion copies.  Her works have been translated into 103 languages and in 1971 she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth.  Christie’s stage play, “The Mousetrap,” holds the record for the longest initial run, celebrating its 25,000 performance on November 18, 2012.

The Mystery Writers of America bestowed upon Christie its highest honor, the Grand Master Award as well as an Edgar Award for her play “Witness for the Prosecution.”  As recently as 2013 the Crime Writer’s Association voted Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” as the best crime novel ever written.

Seven of Christie’s stories are built around familiar nursery rhymes. “Go Back for Murder” is adapted from her novel “Five Little Pigs” and the poem was employed by its main character, detective Hercule Poirot, to organize his thoughts.

“Five Little Pigs” was published in the United States under the title “Murder in Retrospect” in 1942.  Between 1935 and 1942 Christie had published 13 novels featuring Poirot.  She used “Murder in Retrospect” to demonstrate Poirot’s philosophy that any mystery could be solved by reflecting upon the testimony of its participants without access to the crime scene.

Christie adapted the book “Five Little Pigs” into the stage play “Go Back for Murder” in 1960 and replaced Poirot with a young lawyer, Justin Fogg.  This novel has also been adapted for television and a radio play by the BBC.

Peninsula Players Artistic Director Greg Vinkler will direct and perform in the reading.   Vinkler has directed and performed in previous play readings last winter as well as in numerous Players productions including “Butler,” “Amadeus,” “Art,” “A Man for All Seasons” and “Opus,” He recently directed Shattered Globe Theatre’s highly-praised production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo” at Chicago’s Theater Wit.

The cast includes Vinkler as Justin Fogg’s clerk Turnball and the murder victim, Amyas Crale.  Joining Vinkler are Erica Elam, Matt Holzfeind and Mark Moede, all cast members from the Players’ 2014 production of Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”  Elam and Holzfeind were also in the Players 2014 production of “The Tin Woman” and have extensive regional stage credits.

Elam plays both mother and daughter Caroline and Carla; Holzfeind is lawyer Justin Fogg; Moede is Meredith Blake, a reclusive herbologist; Amy Ludwigsen is Amyas’ young mistress and muse, Elsa; Ross Dippel is double cast as Carla’s American fiancée Jeff and Meredith’s stock broker brother, Philip; Anne Herring is Caroline’s younger sister, Angela; Marilynn Bogetich portrays Miss Williams, Angela and Caroline’s devoted governess; and Amy Ensign will be the narrator.

Bogetich performed in the Players production of Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” “Into the Woods,” “Deathtrap” and in last year’s play reading of “The Savannah Disputation.”

Ensign, Dippel and Moede are active in the Door County theater community with such companies as American Folklore Theatre, Door Shakespeare, Isadoora Theatre Company, Third Avenue Playhouse and Theatre M.  Ensign and Moede both performed in the Players reading of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “The Trip to Bountiful” while Dippel performed in the reading of “Twain and Shaw do Lunch.”

Ludwigsen is Executive Director of Door Shakespeare and has performed with Utah Shakespearean Festival, Shaw Chicago Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Door County’s American Folklore Theatre and performed in last winter’s play reading of “Two Story House.”  Herring, also a Door County resident, makes her Players play reading debut and recently performed at Third Avenue Playhouse in “The House of Blue Leaves” and “Almost Maine.”

“Go Back for Murder” is the first of three readings of The Play’s the Thing, a winter series of play readings produced by Peninsula Players Theatre.  Phone the Peninsula Players at 920-868-3287 for information on the reading of “Go Back for Murder” at Björklunden 7p.m., Monday, February, 2.   Admission is free, general seating available.

The Play’s the Thing is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, as well as generous grants from Door County Community Foundation, Ministry Door County Medical Center and Friends of Door County Libraries.

Door County Reads is in its fifth year, having grown out of the Library/Players partnership to bring The Big Read to Door County for three years.  This year’s read focuses on the novel “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger.  A full listing of events can be found at www.doorcountyreads.org.

Peninsula Players will host additional winter play readings Monday, March 2 and Monday, April 6.   “Chapatti,” a new play by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly will be read March 2 and two yet-to-be-published one-acts will be featured April 6, “I Shall Love you Forever” by Kathleen Thompson and “Waiting for Tina Meyer” by Kristine Thatcher and Larry Shue.

Peninsula Players Theatre is America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre. The Play’s the Thing is part of the Players’ continuing winter outreach programming, presenting professional play readings for the public and for students receiving play writing instruction. Learn more about Peninsula Players at www.peninsulaplayers.com.

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Peninsula Players is America’s oldest professional resident summer theater and is unique in the country for its diverse productions, continuing loyalty to a resident company, and its beautiful setting of 16 wooded acres along the cedar-lined shores of Green Bay.  In the past 80 years, the theater has become a Door County landmark and its cornerstone arts institution, attracting audience members from throughout Wisconsin and across the country.