Manassas Journal Messenger | Agatha Christie meets CSI

Kevin Kirby’s house has no furniture.

It’s all at the Ferlazzo Building, as part of the set for the Castaways Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Unexpected Guest.” The play, an Agatha Christie murder mystery, opens tomorrow night and marks Kirby’s first time in the director’s chair.

“I’m not really a big Agatha Christie fan, but I like this play,” said Kirby, 45, who is also working as the producer and also painted the set. “It has a lot of twists and turns.”

“The Unexpected Guest,” written in 1958, opens with an “unexpected guest” finding a woman holding a smoking gun over a murdered man. But, as with all things Agatha Christie, there are cover-ups and lies, and nothing is as it seems.

Kirby of Manassas got his start in community theater three years ago with a small part in Prince William Little Theatre’s “You Can’t Take It with You.” An engineer by trade, Kirby also volunteered to do special effects for that play, which he said included fireworks.

To land the director’s gig for “The Unexpected Guest,” Kirby had to write a concept paper for the play and do an interview.

“I wrote a seven-page dissertation about the concept of the play,” said Kirby, adding that it was probably more than anyone else had written.

Kirby said that he pitched taking the British story into modern times, but to do it in a “CSI style” with 1940s film noir influences.

He said the ending of the play was a bit like the ending to movies such as “The Sixth Sense” and “The Usual Suspects,” where a big twist brings everything together -and makes people want to watch it again.

Despite being a murder mystery, Kirby also said that the play is family-friendly and not gory. He added that the cast is the strongest point of the production.

“Each character has a couple of big scenes where they really get a chance to shine,” said Kirby. “It’s a really great ensemble.”

Cast members also echoed that sentiment.

Patty McCourt, a 20-year veteran of local theater, plays Mrs. Warwick, the mother of the dead man. She described her character as “stern” and “matter of fact.”

McCourt, a retired schoolteacher living in Bristow, also said that the strong point of the production was the cast. She added that Kirby was doing a good job as a first-time director.

“He’s very kind and he’s very good to his actors,” said McCourt, 70, adding that Kirby allows them to explore their characters before offering his suggestions.

Lori Muhlstein plays Miss Bennett, the secretary and housekeeper. Muhlstein said to play a role she needs to know everything about her character. In Miss Bennett’s case (or “Benny,” as the other characters call her), she needed a first name. Agatha Christie never gave the character a first name. Although it is never spoken in the play, Muhlstein said that she settled on the name “Marie.”

“I thought it fit the character,” said Muhlstein of Fairfax. “She’s an upright, efficient woman. ‘Marie’ is more feminized. She is a little bit of a contradiction in terms.”

Muhlstein added that while Miss Bennett is not the family matriarch, she is the glue that keeps the household together and always knows what is going on.

She also said that Kirby’s set design, as well as color and lighting, really enhances the play.

The set is of a drawing room in a house and includes, of course, Kirby’s furniture.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at (703) 878-8072.


* “The Unexpected Guest”

* 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 4; additional shows 1 p.m. Oct. 28

* Ferlazzo Building Auditorium, 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, Woodbridge

* Tickets: $10 to $14

* (703) 508-5418 or

* theunexpected guest.

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