Theater review: Dizzying talent in witty 'Murder, Margaret and Me'

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NEW YORK — Knit one, bash two. Genteel ladies involved with violent murder makes a fine theme for drama, including one sold-out hit of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival. Janet Prince gives a bravura solo performance in the polished, witty production, "Murder, Margaret and Me," presented by Gilded Balloon.

Playwright Philip Meeks has humorously imagined a triple-threat encounter in which brash, comedic British actress Margaret Rutherford meets prolific mystery writer Agatha Christie on the set of the first Miss Marple film, with both women initially reluctant to have Rutherford portray Christie's elderly female detective of literary fame. Meanwhile, that innocent-looking citizen-detective is present onstage too, calmly knitting in a cozy corner while narrating some of the events that might have transpired.

Prince energetically presents a delightful trio of personas, spinning adeptly through mercurial character changes. She makes subtle adjustments for each personality, switching from Miss Marple's genteel but intense demeanor and sweetly sly smile to an assured, aristocratic bearing for Christie. As primary narrator, Prince's Rutherford bounds vigorously around the set, wrapped in an air of bravado that conceals a mysterious inner vulnerability. Whether Christie can learn the secret that Rutherford hides is the crux of the play.

Under adroit direction by Stella Duffy, Prince handles her transitions so smoothly that there can often seem to be two people onstage talking together. Since Marple is fictional, she never directly engages with the other two, but Christie and Rutherford often interact while providing inner asides to the audience.

The tempo of each scene differs pleasantly, with some ruminative and others action-filled. A slapstick touch is given to the tentative first meeting when Christie and Rutherford take tea together, as the two forceful personalities engage in a duel by teacart. Through this all-too-brief glimpse of a fascinating trio, Prince creates a lasting and affecting impression — or three.


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