You don't have to travel to Nashville, or even New York, to enjoy top-notch community theatre. Mt. Juliet has a jewel in its midst with Encore Theatre Company. Premier local actors grace its stage in a variety of performances. Starting tonight, "A Murder is Announced" debuts with veteran director Joel Meriwether at the helm of the highly talented cast. The play runs tonight through Sunday, and again next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We've interviewed some of the main characters of this popular Agatha Christie mystery. The play features Elizabeth Hayes, Rachel Lynn Sweeney, James Jacob Williams, Ann Street-Kavanagh and James Jacob Williams, whom we introduce to you here.
Amy McManus, Tammy Sutherland, Judy Jackson, Phil Brady, Joe Noe, Trin Blakely and Barrett Thomas also are featured in this play that begins with an announcement in the local paper that states the time and place when a murder is to occur in Miss Blacklock's Victorian house. The victim is not one of the house's several occupants, but an unexpected and unknown visitor. What follows is a classic Christie puzzle of mixed motives, concealed identities, a second death, a determined Inspector grimly following the twists and turns, and Miss Marple on hand to provide the final solution at some risk to herself in a dramatic confrontation just before the final curtain.
The set is suburb and the costumes look straight out of the London 1940s era. The audience will take get sucked into the play with it's many clues and red herrings and will be challenged to solve the "who done it."
Director Joel Meriwether
Meriwether is well known in Nashville and beyond as a critical and compassionate director. This play is his 15th at Encore that has been in existence for 11 years.
"I presented this play to Encore and was asked to direct," he said. "Agatha Christie is highly regarded and my favorite sleuth. I really enjoyed the process of directing and I've watched hours, upon hours of Agatha Christie on BBC on Saturday nights."
Meriwether said they've put "the perfect cast together," for this play. They've rehearsed more than 84 hours to give the audience a run for their money.
There are 12 roles in the play and all have experience in acting and some are veterans. He said the set is spectacular and will take the audience into Miss Blacklock's house.
"It's an all star cast and I've brought in people who have been theatre actors," said Meriwether.
He said the play is two hours and the audience will be intrigued and challenged. All actors were trained by an expert to perfect their British accents.
"I've been acting all my life," said Jackson, who plays Detective Miss Maple.
Meriwether before has directed her. She said she's the oldest, 76, of the cast and was intrigued by the role of Miss Maple.
"She's brilliant," she said. "This is in 1943 London and back then women were not considered very important at times. She's quick minded."
Jackson has been in hundreds of plays and film shorts, as well as full-length features.
"I think Joel is a wonderful director," she said. "He directs us to where we turn into the character."
This is a mystery and "the audience gets to solve it," she said. "They have a chance to figure it out with the red herrings. It's great fun. All are talented and I'm privileged to be with this cast.
Jacob plays Patrick Simmons, a young cousin of Letitia who stays at the house. Jacob lives in Lebanon and has acted in theatre all his life. He's 22.
"This cast is the core of this play," he said.
He said the character of Patrick is sarcastic and witty.
"He has a lot of confidence," he said. "He's a lady charmer and wants to be a big whig."
And while he has listened to portions of the audio book, his representation of Patrick is "purely from my head."
He's done a lot of researching about 1940s London and said when rehearsals got to getting into wardrobe it really put him into the time period and role.
"Joel adds layers to the characters and stresses subtext," he said. "That really helps to make us look behind the curtain. I'm excited about our debut on Friday."
Ann Street Kavanaugh
Ann plays the character Bunny in the play.
"She's never been married" said Ann. "She has no children and is very eccentric."
Ann has been acting since fourth grade, about 40 years both in professional and amateur theatre. She's was the owner of the former Kavanugh's Pub in Mt. Juliet.
Ann said she read the script multiple times to "get" her character and said she channeled the famous singer Susan Boyle for the character.
"She's a bit quirky like my character," said Ann.
She suggests the audience pay close attention to find the key to the murdered.
"There are red herrings all over the place!" she said. "My character is sweet and unassuming and the drum beats differently for her. She has no apologies and just is herself. "
Phil plays Inspector Craddock and works with Miss Marple on the case. Phil started his acting career at age 40 and is now 58. He started taking acting lessons and fell in love the theatre. He lives in Donelson.
"Inspector Craddock is the detective called in to find out 'who done it,'" he said. "This is an ensemble piece. Everyone has their time on the stage. There's quite a bit of humor in Craddock's frustrated character."
Phil is a computer programmer by day.
"I've found Joel to be good and insightful and he loves the comic gags and he spent some of his own money on the set," he said.
Rachel plays Julia Simmons and she lives in the mansion. Rachel majored in theatre in collage and works at Cracker Barrel during the day. She's acted in over 100 plays and loves the role of Julie who is at the house to "hang out and vacation."
"Without giving anything away, my role is fun and I get to be a couple characters. The play keeps you guessing," she said. "It's a phenomenal cast and it's super cool. I hope this play will bring more people in to audition for plays here."
Another role for Rachel is costume designer.
"It was a collaborative effort and took a lot of time," she said. "I didn't sew the clothes. Everyone stepped up."
She haunted vintage stores and said Goodwill was a Godsend when it came to finding period clothes. Also the Nashville Rep had some great rentals. She's now going to be their Wardrobe Rental Manager. She said Joel has "an eye for detail and is very organic."
She pooled from several people to develop her character such as Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada
Rachel said Julia is about 27 years old and is considered a spinster in that time period.
"She's toured the world!" said Rachel.
The play runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30. Encore theatre is at 6878 Lebanon Road.