When people read about a murder, they usually start with the crime itself, but that is all wrong. A murder is the culmination of different circumstances, and it is the end of the story.
So goes the theory at the heart of “Towards Zero,” the final show of the season for Colonial Players, which opened May 31 and runs through June 22. The show is based on Agatha Christie’s 1944 book and the 1956 stage adaptation by Christie and Gerald Verner.
The premise involves a party at the seaside home of Lady Tressilian in the town of Gull’s Point. Among the guests are Nevile Strange; his impassive ex-wife, Audrey; his new wife, Kay; Lady Tressilian’s companion; and others — an unusual meeting of characters marred by jealousy, infidelity and other flaws. When a murder is committed, Superintendent Battle launches an investigation, tracing back toward the zero hour when the killing was committed.
Mark Allen is directing the show, which comes about two months after his portrayal of Sir Hugh Evans in the Colonial Players adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
“There are some unique challenges with doing a murder mystery,” said Allen, who has directed Agatha Christie plays at other theater companies. “You want to give the audience all the clues, but you don’t want them to put it together. You have to mix in some red herrings.”
Allen expects those twists and turns to keep audiences engaged.
“This is, in a lot of ways, a psychological thriller,” Allen said. “It’s a balancing act. The opening act is heavy on giving all the background, but you don’t want to lose the audience’s attention. All of the exposition is necessary but challenging because you want to keep it entertaining.”
The characters, he said, make the play entertaining because of their varying motives. Bringing those characters to life is a cast of actors eager to accept the challenge of performing a murder mystery in the round.
“I am so proud and delighted with the cast,” Allen said. “With Agatha Christie, she starts with a stock character and then she builds. They have done a great job with the nuance of those characters.”
One of those actors is Ben Bell, who is cast as Nevile Strange.
“My friends and I got hooked on the ‘Miss Marple’ murder mystery shows, so when I heard about this, it was perfect,” Bell said.
Jeff Miller said he hadn’t “stretched my acting muscles in a long time,” but his background prepared him for the role of Superintendent Battle.
“I’ve been performing since high school,” Miller said. “I’ve played a couple police officers. I work in security.”
Nicole Musho plays Audrey, Nevile Strange’s first wife. “My character is very different from me personally,” Musho said. “She doesn’t show emotion.”
Robin Schwartz plays Mary Aldin, the intelligent and well-read companion of Lady Tressilian. “I always wanted to do a murder mystery,” Schwartz said. “I’m honored to be a part of it. It’s been amazing working with Mark as a director and the whole Colonial Players team.”
Several cast members praised BettyAnn Leeseberg-Lange, a dialect coach who helped them hone their accents. Leeseberg-Lange worked with actors on the television show “The Wire,” and she has assisted with many plays. Miller has relied on her help to perfect his cockney accent, and Bell credited her advice of annotating every line in the script.
Just as the actors have work to do in becoming their characters, the audience has a job as well: finding the killer. Join Colonial Players for “Towards Zero” and see if you can solve the mystery. Showtimes are 8:00pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00pm on Sundays. For tickets or more information about Colonial Players, visit www.thecolonialplayers.org.