Theatre Review: ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

The cast of “Witness For The Prosecution” at NRTG.

Niagara Regional Theatre Guild, one of the oldest community theatre companies in New York State, is currently presenting the British courtroom drama, “Witness for the Prosecution” based on a story by Agatha Christie. The most famous version of “Witness for the Prosecution” was Billy Wilder’s 1957 film adaptation starring Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, and Charles Laughton. The play depicts a murder trial, and it is rich with twists and turns.The story was written almost 100 years ago, but it still has a very absorbing plot line.

Production values are solid. . .

This is a good choice of a play for community theatre companies as the cast size is large and there are lots of meaty character roles. Director Les Bailey has mounted an enjoyable and satisfying production.

Opening night there was a full house and this was impressive, considering the weather challenges we’ve had in WNY this week. I wonder how many other theatre companies in town could boast of having a full house this weekend! Patrons seated near me assured me that the houses were always full and that they consistently have a great time at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild productions. Indeed, the atmosphere was warm and friendly, and the whole audience was invited to the after party. Snacks are provided during intermissions with a basket for donations. The cast, in costume, stood outside the auditorium doors to thank the audience for attending. This is community theatre at its best!

Leading the cast is Paul Bene who is wonderfully imposing, both physically and vocally, as Sir Wilfred, the barrister. He is ably supported by handsome Ryan Morgan who plays the man accused of murder and Sarah Fratello who is appropriately implacable as his “cool as a cucumber” wife.

Other stand-outs in the company include the always masterful Michael Starzynski, Michael Breen as the stalwart Carter, and Michelle Holden as the physician. Ms. Holden’s British accent is impeccable, one of the evening’s best. Katherine Parker has a delightful turn as the Scottish housekeeper.

Production values are solid: sets by Bob Brady and Dan Zerpa, costumes by Nancy Watts, lights by Les Bailey, and sound by Katie Fitzgerald.

I’m quibbling now, but there were a few little things that could have been improved. Pacing and energy sagged at times – especially in the chambers scenes. I would have liked the judge to have a louder, more powerful gavel. Music could have helped to cover the complicated set change in Act III. And a more realistic wig for the Cockney lady, as well as a scar, would have added to the realism of that character. It would have been interesting to have a less relaxed, less naturalistic approach to the material and gone for a more stylized tone with film noir touches.

The audience had a thoroughly good time, however. Tickets prices are reasonable, parking is free, the parking lot is large, and the theatre has just made plans to install air conditioning for their springtime shows. Everyone is looking forward to the rest of the season — the comedy “Moon Over Buffalo” and the musical “Me and My Girl.”

Running time:  2 hours and 45 minutes with two brief intermissions.

“Witness For The Prosecution” runs until February 16, 2019 and is presented at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild. For more information, click here.