Through Sunday, Jun. 16

NCSU’s Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, Raleigh

At a glance, designer Jayme Mellema’s center-stage set piece seems charming: a Victorian mansion with detailed gables, turrets, and crestings, reduced to the dimensions of an oversize dollhouse. But Chrissie Munich’s stark lighting bathes the edifice in cold shades, bone-white to gray, revealing telltale signs of disrepair along its windows and walls.

Then, you can’t help noticing the several dozen ominous red ropes that extend upward from the house in all directions, toward a series of panels suspended from the wings. Projected on them are documents and photographs that gradually form a rebus of evidence connecting the house to a crime committed there sixteen years before. At their center, a painting of woman stares out in accusation.

Design is often the strongest suit of N.C. State’s University Theatre, and Go Back for Murder, the TheatreFest 2019 summer-season opener, is no exception. The plotting of murder maven Agatha Christie’s rarely produced 1960 play is partly to blame. Though central character Carla Le Marchant (a resolute Emily Yates) is certainly engaging as she investigates the long-ago slaying of her father, the philandering artist Amyas Crale, we’re never given a compelling reason for the five suspects to return to the scene of the crime. 

Similarly, director Mia Self doesn’t make total sense of Christie’s confusing flashbacks in the second act. As the quintet reenacts their actions and reactions to what they witnessed sixteen years before, they’re somehow joined by the deceased himself (Michael Parker), whose indiscretions with Lady Melksham (Laura J. Parker)—whom he’s brought to their home to paint and pursue an adulterous affair—push matters to their crisis. 

As the two time frames bleed into one, we buy the chemistry between Carla and quietly heroic solicitor Justin Fogg (a solid Gus Allen) more than we ever do the more overt dalliances between Melksham and Crale. By the end, color us sold on the who in this whodunit—but less so on the how. This puzzle box’s jaw-dropping visual appeal surpasses its contents.


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