Surfin' Safari

Though both are set in beach houses, two plays approach the locale from opposite angles and shine a different light on their characters.

At the outset of the opening-night performance at Webster University, the youthful audience manifested a somewhat condescending superiority to the events onstage. But by Act Two, as guests were being eliminated in the most unexpected ways, that same audience sat rapt, totally absorbed by the puzzle. By the play's surprising end, had anyone dared to boast that he or she had figured out the identity of the killer in advance, likely that braggart would have been stoned to death. All these years later, this aged, but efficient, melodrama is still able to surprise and deceive.

For that success, credit a uniformly fine cast piloted by director Tim Ocel, who utilizes all the tools at his disposal to provide access to Agatha Christie's remote universe. These tools include the impervious gulls and forbidding ocean waves heard to great effect in Joe Hodge's sound design, as well as the subtle mood shifts reflected in John Ryan's lighting plot. The director also makes good use of the stage levels on Jeffrey Guebert's clean set to keep the story as visually interesting as possible.

Jessica Podewell and Andrew Sloey in Ten Little Indians
Claudia Burris
Jessica Podewell and Andrew Sloey in Ten Little Indians


Betty's Summer Vacation
Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. By Christopher Durang; performed by RiverCity Theatre through October 7. Call 314-821-8883.

Ten Little Indians
Webster University, Stage III, 470 Lockwood Avenue. By Agatha Christie; performed by Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts through October 7. Call 314-968-7128.

There was a time when every Broadway season included at least one surefire thriller. Mega-hits like Angel Street in the 1940s, Dial "M" for Murder in the '50s, Sleuth in the '70s and Deathtrap in the early '80s each ran for years. But of late, this genre has gone out of style. A recent Broadway revival of the 1966 mystery Wait Until Dark, starring Quentin Tarantino as the villain, was very nearly hooted off the stage. Too bad, because as this tidy production makes clear, the cleansing concentration involved in attempting to keep up with a well-crafted "whodunnit" is more than a guilty pleasure -- it also can provide a welcome respite from a weary world.

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