Curtain Calls: Untangle Agatha Christie’s murder mystery ‘Spider’s Web’ in Orinda

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It’s a tradition for Orinda Starlight Village Players to open each summer season with an Agatha Christie murder mystery, so it’s no surprise that the company kicked things off at the of last month with “Spider’s Web” — which has long been a favorite.

In Christie’s mysterious tale, a diplomat’s wife — who loves spinning tales of adventure — finds fantasy is much more fun than reality when a murder takes place in her own drawing room. Desperate to dispose of the body before her husband arrives with an important politician, she enlists the help of her guests.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do this show,” said director Jill Gelster, “is that the cast includes the diplomat’s 12-year-old daughter Pippa, and we have a marvelous young actress we were eager to cast.”

The actress, Kayly Veliz, appeared in the company’s production of “Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio” last year and was happy to take on the role.

“I’ve been passionate about acting and modeling,” said the young performer, who with her mother’s help developed the necessary British accent.

Shiv Harris plays the diplomat’s wife and Pippa’s stepmother.

“Spider’s Web” continues through June 29 at Orinda Community Center Park on 28 Orinda Way. For tickets, call 925-528-9225 or email

Alameda: Altarena Playhouse opened John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt” at the end of May. The compelling drama continues through June 30 at the Altarena theater, 1501 High St.

“This play is so well written. Shanley just pulls you in and then you’re left to your own devices to figure out what the heck just happened,” said Altarena’s Artistic Director Katina Psihos Letheule.

What “happened” is an alarming story of Sister Aloysius, a very conservative Catholic nun and elementary school principal. She suspects the new priest, who is quite young and very liberal, has been inappropriate with a young male Black student. Shanley sets his drama in the 1960s, adding the unrest of the times to the mix.

Letheule tapped first-time director Shannon Nicholson to helm the play.

“She put so much work in as an assistant director on other projects, really learned her craft, so I was excited to offer her the directing job,” Letheule said.

What “stunned” Letheule wasn’t Nicholson’s acceptance but her request that the artistic director take on the role of Sister Aloysius. It took Letheule a month to decide if she could handle the acting role and her duties at the theater. Ultimately, she said yes.

“When you play a character like this, you have to look for a positive motivation. What it is about this person; where do you see their humanity? I focused on her past because she had been married and her husband died in WWII,” Letheule said. “I feel like she lost control of her nice life because of her tragedy and control is very important to her.”

The rest of the cast consists of Thomas Hutchinson as Father Brendan Flynn, Billie J. Simmons as the boy’s mother Mrs. Muller and Anna Kosiarek as the young Sister James.

Before rehearsals began, the four-member cast went on field trips including attending a Catholic mass.

“We bonded immediately,” Letheule said. “Everyone was so committed to the process, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with all of them.”

While Shanley’s drama gives Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn’s opposing versions of the truth, he doesn’t give any answers — preferring to leave audiences with their own opinions and doubts.

“I think people like the fact that things aren’t spelled out for them. They can keep the conversation going after the show,” Letheule said. “We have two talk backs scheduled, and I’m excited to hear what people say and get a lively discussion going.”

For tickets, call 510-523-1553 or go to

Oakland Hills: Time to roll those dice and see where they land as Woodminster Summer Musicals opens its summer season with the popular award-winning “Guys and Dolls.”

Lots of action with such characters as gamblers Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet and Sky Masterson not to mention Sergeant Sarah Brown from Save-a-Soul Mission and nightclub performer Adelaide.

Great songs, including my favorite “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” The show runs Friday though June 23 at Woodminster Amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland Hills.

The season continues with “Jersey Boys” (July 12-21) and “Sister Act” (Aug. 9-18). For tickets, visit

Pittsburg: Feuding former vaudevillian greats keep the laughs coming in Pittsburg Theatre Company’s “The Sunshine Boys.” The Neil Simon comedy runs Friday though June 23 at Pittsburg’s California Theatre, 351 Railroad Ave.

Al (George Doerr) and Willie (Kevin Burns) were top-billed vaudevillians for over 40 years but haven’t spoken in 12 years when a CBS comedy retrospective wants to include the two as guests. Willie’s nephew (Michael Wilson) attempts to reunite the pair and get them performance ready.

Dianna Schepers directs. For tickets call 925-427-1611 or go to

Reach Sally Hogarty at, and read more of her reviews online at

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