A good murder mystery never seems to go out of style. The Long Beach Playhouse opened a new mainstage show over the weekend and they are putting their own spin on a classic who-done-it by Agatha Christie. “Towards Zero” was adapted as a stage play from a Christie novel, and takes place during a weekend gathering at the seaside home of Lady Tressilian. When she is found murdered, the guessing game begins.
Among the cast and crew are a couple of local performing artists, Jordan Brayboy of Long Beach and director Holland Renton, a Huntington Beach resident. Brayboy plays Kay Strange, the new wife of tennis player Neville Strange, who becomes a prime suspect. Renton has performed at Long Beach Playhouse and is making her mainstage directorial debut at the theater.
Brayboy grew up in Long Beach, where she attended Millikan High before moving on to Cal Baptist University, where she studied theater. She is making her Long Beach Playhouse debut in this production. She found an interest in theater while at Millikan, where a friend was performing in “Little Shop of Horrors.” After the show she was showing Brayboy around backstage, through the dressing rooms and makeup area. When she stood on stage in the empty theater she felt at home.
“The moment I stepped on the stage and saw the empty audience I just had this overwhelming feeling of belonging,” Brayboy said. “It was crazy!”
Brayboy continued her studies at Cal Baptist, where she performed in productions such as “Crazy Eights,” “She stoops to conquer,” and “Fools.” She said acting is her favorite part of performing, and while she’s tried singing, she shies away from musicals. During her time at college, she said she was more than happy to be part of the ensemble, however.
“The thing I enjoy the most about acting is that we get to showcase parts of ourselves on stage. Even the ugly emotions—jealousy, greed, anger, resentment, bitterness, etc. Every character that we (actors) play are simply people in real life,” Brayboy said.
For Renton, while this is her first time directing at LBP, she brings a lot of experience. She landed in Huntington Beach by way of New York, where she was an actor and Managing Director for the Red Monkey Theater Group, the resident group at the College of Mount Saint Vincent. She studied theater at the University of Montevallo, in Alabama, as well as the Circle In the Square Theatre School in New York City.
She said that acting and directing are her favorite aspects of shows, but also admits she shies away from singing when she can. She found an early interest in theater through a childhood friend’s mom, who produced theater shows for the local high school.
“I was introduced to musical theater by watching VHS recordings during sleepovers at her house,” Renton said. “I was hooked. I save the singing for the showers these days and stay with plays.”
Sun News: Aside from the mystery of who-done-it, what is something you think audiences might particularly enjoy about this production?
Renton: My aim was to give the classic Christie a modern edge. This play is all about the characters, so I started with the premise that this was a reality show set in the late 50’s and the audience members are cameras picking up the raw footage. Also, I ramped up the physical situations to give more tension. This isn’t your typical drawing room murder mystery.
Brayboy: I think audiences will really enjoy watching us as a cast! Although my theatre experience may be limited at the moment, I have to say this is the most cohesive and sweetest cast. We all work really well together and support each other on and off stage, and I feel like the audience will be able to see that. We are a team and I believe that shows on the stage. I also think that the audience will enjoy this show because it allows you to relax and have fun! It offers a bit of escapism from the reality of our lives. You can sit back and relax with family, old college friends, a romantic partner, or even alone!
Sun News: Is there anything audiences might like or dislike about your character of Kay Strange?
Brayboy: Kay is very dynamic and a firecracker. She speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to say what she’s thinking or feeling. I think that is something the audience will like about Kay because I think it is very admirable when I see people stand their ground regardless of what others have to say. We live in a world where having opinions against the majority is immediately frowned upon instead of having a conversation about it. People no longer listen, but rather speak to speak just so their voice is heard, whether they are right or wrong.
She is also jealous but given the context, you would be too! It may come off as a bit bratty and annoying to people which can make them dislike her, but hey—we are all flawed as human beings and people will still love you.
Sun News: What were some of the challenges, or maybe enjoyable aspects of directing this murder mystery?
Renton: Modern audiences are used to less exposition and shows that move. I had to find a way to make the 1st act move and be interesting in order to set up the second act, where most of the action takes place. The actors and I focused on the bits of dialogue that dropped either red herrings or vital facts. We tried to subtly reinforce these tidbits so the audience clues in as fast as possible.
Towards Zero runs on Friday’s and Saturday’s at 8 p.m. through Feb. 11 and Sunday’s at 2 p.m. through Feb. 5. Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Long Beach, 90804. For more information, or tickets, visit lbplayhouse.org, or call (562) 494-1014.