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Posted February 26, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Hiding out: WLT production offers up opportunities for blackmail

The cast of "Something to Hide"
The cast of "Something to Hide," from left, Ellen Nichols, as Karen Holt, Richard Bennett, as Inspector Davies, Randy Orndorff, as Will Purdie, and Steve Nichols, as Howard Holt, rehearse a scene recently at Winchester Little Theatre. The murder mystery, by Leslie Sands, opens March 6. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Abby Heart
Abby Heart, as Julie Grant, talks to Nichols during a recent rehearsal. Dennis Grundman/Daily

"Something to Hide" case members
Cast members of "Something to Hide" rehearse a scene. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Natalie Austin -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Combine a dead mistress in the driveway where the wife of a cheating husband ran her over, a nosy neighbor, a punk rock maid with a mane of pink hair, and blackmail has a fertile breeding ground.

Written in the '50s by British playwright Leslie Sands, "Something to Hide" is a murder mystery that starts action in the first 10 minutes and never slows down.

Presented by the Winchester Little Theatre, the play has been modernized, although some stock characters are expected. Director Sally Anderson, also a veteran WLT actress and theater professor at Shenandoah University, already has the stage set for action.

"A cheating writer is entertaining his young mistress and the next person through the door is his wife, 'Oh my God I've killed her,'" says Anderson.

The seven-member casts includes two first-time actors and most seemed enthusiastic and in character -- complete with English accents -- on a recent afternoon.

Anderson says she went looking beyond Agatha Christie in choosing the genre for which the playwright is most celebrated. She found it with Sands' work and, with some tweaking, modernized the play.

"Well, I believe in order to balance a season, you need a comedy, mystery and drama," she says. "It's nice to touch all of the genres."

For the cheating husband and his wife, she didn't have to look far for the perfect couple.

The real-life husband-and-wife team of Steve and Ellen Nichols portray Howard Holt, a not-so-great writer and adulterer, and Karen Holt, his wife and publisher. The two laughed at the fact that going over lines at home has actually frightened their cats.

His latest work, they say, giggling, is "Lust Lurks for the Lady."

Nichols says he is enjoying the character.

"I like playing a lousy waste of food," he says, laughing. "I expect women in the audience will want to tear me apart for all the wrong reasons."

His stage wife isn't such a sweetheart, either.

Mrs. Nichols says her character is "daddy's little girl."

The action takes place in the couple's country house, where the mistress spends the weekdays and the wife the weekends, until that fateful day they collide in the driveway.

Veteran actor Richard Bennett portrays Inspector Davies, whose trench coat and honed accent are what fans of the genre have come to expect.

A fan of British mysteries, Bennett says it's the inspectors' competence, subtle changes of expression and sheer talent at changing the line of questioning to throw suspects off balance, that make him such a fan. There's no forensics, just a notebook in which all the pieces are ultimately put together, he explains.

Of course, the key evidence is finding out Howard Holt is married and the woman dead in the driveway is his mistress.

"I wanted it character-driven, and I thought of going for pauses, the sort of things that chill as they go," Anderson says.

Statuesque and lovely, Shenandoah University student Abby Heart makes her debut to the WLT stage as the young mistress, Julie Grant.

"It's a fun show," she says. "I'm excited."

A call is put out to the local authorities and instead of the bobby they think is going to investigate, Davies shows up. The bobby is heard as a voice offstage.

Entering in all-black, leather and silver studs, Stella, the maid, is played by Sarah Onore, new to WLT but seeming quite at home with her leather and feather duster persona. As the Holts' new maid, she seems to be trying to calm things down after the unpleasant incident.

The nosey neighbor, Miss Cunningham, is played by Lauren Hugg.

"I'm fishing, and I'm in the know," she says, "Everyone is a potential blackmailer."

Comic relief is provided by Will Purdy, played by Randy Orndorff. When talking about his character, his British accent rolls off the tongue like it's been waiting there for the perfect part. He plays a garage owner and assists the inspector a bit.

With all of the potential damning knowledge floating around, the list of blackmailers will have to be seen by audiences, who must wait to find out if they have guessed correctly.

"This is a play that goes right down to the end," says Anderson.

"Something to Hide" runs March 6-8, 12-15 and 19-21. Call the box office at 662-3331 or go online to boxoffice@wltonline.org for tickets and more information. Thursday through Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays.

  • Contact Natalie Austin at naustin@nvdaily.com
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