Theater Review: MCT production of The Unexpected Guest

Bobby Schiller, Janice Cowan and Clay Owens rehearse a scene in The Unexpected Guest. Final performances are set this weekend.

By Sue Ann Kendall, Guest contributor

What a treat it was to attend the opening night of Milam Community Theater’s production of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest on Saturday, April 2. Lucky attendees enjoyed a prime rib dinner and delicious fixings (especially those buttery carrots), prepared and elegantly served by Agnes and Jerry’s catering team. Dining on stage gave attendees the chance to admire the set, and wonder what was going to happen there. Then, under the sure and steady guidance of director Melanie Reed and producer Monica Schiller, the cast came together to deliver a charming and engrossing performance in classic who-done-it style. Just when they thought they had this murder mystery all figured out, a new twist got the audience wondering what’s next, all over again.
The play is set in a remote Welsh cottage, in the home of former big game hunter Richard Warwick. Melanie Reed’s set design was one of the best I’ve seen from MCT. There were all the trappings of his exploits on the walls, and the kind of overstuffed furnishings you’d expect to see in a rural setting like this. Randy Leo did a great job of set construction, too, creating multiple surfaces, doors, and windows for the cast to use for entrances and exits. The sound system and lighting helped a lot, as well— sound effect and lighting tech, Amanda Tyson’s fog horns, telephones, and gunshots were subtle and realistic. The beautiful and period-appropriate costumes were another bonus—these were as good as the M*A*S*H costumers, so kudos to Lori Vega and Phyllis Waring for their hard work. The fact that you didn’t notice issues with any of these elements showed what a professional job the MCT team can do to create an atmosphere that lets the audience focus on the story.
But what’s a play without actors? The experience of the ensemble that delivered the performance was obvious. It was a joy to see some old favorites from previous shows and I was impressed by some folks I hadn’t seen yet in my three years of watching MCT productions. My husband’s favorite was Chris White’s comic relief in his role of Sergeant Cadwallader. Between his accent, his bluster, and his irreverence, he had us giggling more than once—we hope to see him again. Also providing some amusement was Martha Lee, playing Benny the household servant. Even when she wasn’t doing her best English accent, her eyes and facial expressions added to the mystery and fun.
Dustan Owens, who played the unexpected guest, is a natural leading man whose acting skills made us hope he’s in a lot more future plays. The same can be said for leading lady Janice Cowen, who plays the elegant wife of the murder victim. It was mesmerizing to watch her show how nervous she was with the props and her hands. Supporting them were Elizabeth Lewis, whose icy calm made us wonder if Nurse Angell was really so angelic after all, and Bobby Schiller as the murder victim’s best friend—he didn’t seem very innocent either. So many suspects! Mona Butala lent dignity to the mother of the deceased—we held on to every word she said.
Two other roles really lit up the stage. John Nelson made the role of the police inspector (every murder mystery needs one!) fun to watch with his amazing accent, and young Clayton Owens was mesmerizing in his lively and somehow endearing portrayal of the unstable younger brother—he’s going to go far if he keeps up his acting career. In all, everyone interacted beautifully, and the ensemble’s subtle reactions to the other characters added depth to the performance.
There’s still a chance to see this group of characters solve the mystery again this Saturday and Sunday! Two more performances at 7 p.m. on April 9 (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), and at 2 p.m. on April 10 (doors open at 1:30 p.m.)! Tickets are just $15 and go to support live theater in Milam County. Performances are at the Williams Event Center, 408 Columbus, Cameron. For more information on Milam Community Theater, visit