I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.
I fell in love with Heidi Armbruster’s Mrs. Christie when I directed the world premiere at the Dorset Theatre Festival in 2019, with every intention of bringing the show to TheatreWorks for it’s regional/west coast premiere. We were delayed a few years, but that moment is finally, joyfully here. We have solved the mystery of when!
And the timing is perfect. We launch our new season with a new play; we continue our mission of supporting the writers of today—those who are helping us make sense of our world, and providing much needed entertainment and relief when the world proves to be too much at times. We open with a play that celebrates our ability to overcome, to claim for ourselves the lives we wish to lead. And a play which, thoughtfully, provides some clues as to how we all might write our second acts. How fitting for TheatreWorks at this time. How wonderful for me as your new Artistic Director, and what an utter delight this show will be for you, our audience.
When rereading Mrs. Christie last year, I was amazed at how much more relevant the story seemed. My, oh my, how the world has changed since the Dorset production in 2019. How we have all changed. I found that in exploring what might have led to Agatha’s 1926 disappearance, in delving into the grief and loss our two onstage heroines are experiencing, this play was helping me solve the puzzle of my own pandemic-related grief.
In a letter from WH Auden to Lord Byron, A wrote:
Professor Housman was I think the first
To say in print how very stimulating
The little ills by which mankind is cursed,
The colds, the aches, the pains are to creating;
Indeed one hardly goes too far in stating
That many a flawless lyric may be due
Not to a lover’s broken heart, but ‘flu.
Agatha Christie’s writing was influenced by both. By 1926, the year of Agatha’s disappearance, she had experienced both the grief and pain of the 1918 influenza pandemic and the aftermath of World War I. And like many of us, she was also processing very personal losses— the recent death of her mother, and the dissolution of her marriage to Archibald Christie.
Extraordinarily, Agatha Christie turned her grief into art. She delighted audiences. She boldly played with and ultimately redefined her literary form. She walked out of a conventional life and transformed into the incredible woman we know her to be. She clearly did something right, as only Shakespeare and the Bible have sold more copies than her mysteries.
Mrs. Christie holds us in the truth of our shared experience of the past few years. It wraps its arms around us and tell us that we can find a way forward—and we can have a marvelous time along the way.
This new and special play is an homage to female friendships, to a woman who dared to live beyond the confines of her time, and also to a woman seeking to define herself in these times.
Puzzles have solutions, and the mystery is always solved. This play is a call to overcome, to survive and to have the courage to live—for life is the great mystery in which we all are fortunate enough to find ourselves.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Agatha herself that captures something of the spirit of Mrs. Christie: