Now on stage at Peninsula Players Theatre through July 28 is Agatha Christie’s endearing, yet shrewd detective, Miss Marple, who is on the hunt for a crafty killer in “A Murder is Announced,” by Leslie Darbon.
Miss Marple is making her debut at America’s oldest professional resident summer theater and Door County’s theatrical icon. Christie introduced Miss Marple to readers in 1927 when The Royal Magazine published her short story “The Tuesday Night Club,” in which three people are poisoned at dinner and one dies.
Christie based Miss Marple on her aunt and named her after a railway station in Marple, on the Manchester to Sheffield Hope Valley line, at which Christie’s train was once delayed.
Miss Marple is featured in 12 of Christie’s novels with the sleuth making her last appearance in “Sleeping Murder.” Within those novels, 41 years pass and Miss Marple witnesses not only her neighbors in St. Mary Mead grow, but it seemingly gives her infinite examples of human nature’s evil side.
Penny Slusher is portraying the sharp spinster in the Peninsula Players murder mystery. Slusher performed in “The Hollow,” another Christie mystery, as well as “Chapatti” and “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” at Door County’s theater-in-a-garden.
Slusher’s numerous stage credits include performing at many Chicago theaters including Writers Theatre, Court Theatre and Northlight Theatre as well as internationally with John Mahoney, of television’s “Frasier,” at the Galway International Arts Festival in “Chapatti” and “Stella and Lou.” She was also at the Sydney Theatre in Australia with Steppenwolf Theatre’s production of “August: Osage County.”
“I saw Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in a film when I was 10 years old,” Slusher said. “I fell in love with the character instantly. I wanted to BE Jane Marple, so this role is a childhood dream come true.”
Slusher’s favorite mystery authors lean more toward the classic writers. “Agatha Christie has always been a favorite,” she said. “I’ve read her novels for years – especially the Miss Marple stories. I also love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe (who have their own particular sorts of mysteries). I also enjoy Kate Atkinson, who is contemporary.”
In “The Murder at the Vicarage,” Miss Jane Marple is introduced as a somewhat gleeful gossip who expects the worst of everyone. So one could describe Miss Marple as a busybody. “But I don’t see her that way,” Slusher said. “She has an insatiable curiosity – not with people’s personal lives (in my opinion) – but rather with human behavior. That’s what makes her such an exceptional detective…her keen observations.”
In later books, Christie makes Miss Marple a more modern and kinder person; yet one with an unmatched understanding of humanities quirks, strengths, foibles and weaknesses.
“I would say she’s clever, subtle and loves a mystery,” Slusher said. “She adores her garden, her nieces and nephews, and meeting new people. She has an active mind and enjoys the challenge of unraveling crimes. I love that she is rather impish at times and sparkles when verbally sparring with various inspectors in the Miss Marple novels.”
When a mysterious notice appears in the local paper, several villagers become extremely curious, including Miss Marple in “A Murder is Announced.”
The news ad reads: “A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 13th, at Little Paddocks – at 6:30 p.m.” Is it a joke? A party invitation? A hoax? When these inquisitive villagers gather at Miss Blacklock’s Victorian house at the appointed time, the lights go out, a gun is fired, and they become witnesses to a murder.
“A Murder is Announced” performs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday, July 28 at 4 p.m. Individual ticket prices range from $40 to $46. Group rates are available for 15 and more. There are no performances on Mondays. For more information or to reserve tickets, phone the Peninsula Players Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit the website at www.peninsulaplayers.com.