Review: Credible 'Witness' opens Dorset Players' 91st season

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DORSET — The Dorset Players opened their 91st season with a rousing production of the Agatha Christie mainstay, "Witness for the Prosecution."

The beloved mystery play is directed by Janet Groom, who returns to the helm after a number of years, and produced by Lynne Worth.

The story finds us with Leonard Vole, a likeable enough chap, on trial for the murder of a wealthy woman, and legendary lawyer Sir Wilfred Robarts has chosen to represent him.

Regrettably, Leonard's alibi depends on the testimony of his callous wife, Romaine, an migr from eastern Europe who was "saved" by Vole from Communist oppression.

However, after the discovery of a legal loophole, she makes the eyebrow-raising move to testify in court against him. Or did she? To Sir Wilfred's surprise, this is only the first in a series of puzzling revelations and reversals.

This show not only has one of the bigger casts you'll find at the Dorset Players (12), but a near-unprecedented number of newcomers to the company's stage - a sign of the organization's health, to be sure.

In order of appearance the cast - in which every member held up their end very well - includes: Caroline Parker as Typist, Dana Haley as chief clerk Carter and Dr. Wyatt, Dan O'Connell as solicitor Mahew, Joe Mozer as Leonard, Drew Davidson as Sir Wilfred, David Meiselman as Inspector Hearne, Kristen Kimball as Romaine, Peter McCostis as the Usher, Jon Mathewson as Justice Wainwright, Richard Grip as prosecutor Myers, Mona Wightman as Janet, and Desiree Kipp as lab geek Miss Clegg, and The Other Woman.

As such, it's impossible to assess the performance of each player, but one aspect of the cast did stand out: its five female members. From Parker's short but saucy forays, to the utter contemptibility of Kimball, to the starchy stubbornness of Wightman, to the delightful dual versatility and caricatures of both Haley and Kipp, the ladies of this show all deserve to take an extra bow.

Lights and sound by Angie Merwin and Peter Witter were solid throughout. Costumes by Suzi Dorgeloh and Cherie Thompson were fun and functional, and scenic design by Mona Wightman and Drew Hill get a nod for 180 degree functionality.

The show was stage managed capably by Patty Greene-Pawelczyk, and Worth crossed every T and dotted every I in her incisive production.

The play, with 15 minute intermission added in, ran about two and a half hours.

The fact that the Dorset Players are now in their 91st season is enough of a cause for celebration. It's not easy to keep community theater companies solvent, let alone vibrant.

The Players have managed both, and done so in recent times with a full slate of fall to winter offerings annually.

And shows such as "Witness for the Prosecution" are a fine example of why, and how it all works. New faces, returning former contributors, and an army of active support behind the scenes makes the Players effort truly grass roots, and at times, even surpasses the abilities of professional stages.

That's reason enough for taking in this show, and enjoying an evening of entertainment, skill and artistry that only a good neighbor can offer.

"Witness for the Prosecution" will run through Oct. 14 at The Dorset Players, 104 Cheney Rd., Dorset. Info and tickets: dorsetplayers.org or 802-867-5570.

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA) and a longtime regional journalist and drama critic. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @TellyHalkias.

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