[UPDATED] Play aims at stigma of disabled actors

Clio McConnell, Editor-At-Large

Plenty of theater companies support good causes, sometimes appealing to audience members for donations after the final bow. The Off-Broadway troupe Theater Breaking Through Barriers works to raise awareness in a more straightforward way, as shown in their current production of Agatha Christie’s adaptation of “The Unexpected Guest.”

Founded in 1979, TBTB showcases the talents of writers and actors with disabilities, aiming to remove the stigma that follows this minority group of theater professionals. TBTB prides itself on being the only Off-Broadway theater dedicated to advancing artists with disabilities.

“We believe that through artistic excellence and the development of role models we can make our claim at last for full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society,” the TBTB website reads.

True to this mission statement, “The Unexpected Guest” features performers with various handicaps. The play is a murder mystery, taking place in an isolated English manor immediately after the suspicious death of its owner, Mr. Warwick. Par for the course in terms of Christie’s stories, everyone at the house is a suspect, and the killer is not revealed until the play’s final moments.

The cast valiantly lived up to the company’s advertising philosophy, proving that disabled actors are at least as capable as any other actor, therefore breaking through that contentious barrier. “The Unexpected Guest” actor Christopher Imbrosciano was perhaps the best of the lot as Jan Warwick, the dead man’s younger brother.

As Laura Warwick, the wife of the deceased, Pamela Sabaugh was somewhat wooden, while Anthony Michael Lopez was dialectically quite inconsistent as the supposedly Welsh Sergeant Cadwallader.

Ultimately, the company is successful in integrating the disabled actors with able-bodied actors. Unfortunately, because the able-bodied actors were not terribly talented, that point may be rather moot.

The script was also surprisingly disappointing — while the plot is everything one can expect from Christie’s renowned reputation, the writing occasionally seemed stilted and at times even sexist. Standout David Rosar Stearns as Henry Angell capably turned some of his awkward lines into the funniest moments of the show.

While “The Unexpected Guest” does not exactly dazzle compared to the current Broadway fare, TBTB offers a unique theater experience in support of an altruistic cause, and is surely an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

“The Unexpected Guest” runs through May 10 at the Clurman Theatre on 410 W. 42nd St.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 29 print edition. Email Clio McConnell at [email protected].

*Correction: Actor Christopher Imbrosiano is not in a wheelchair, Ann Marie Morelli uses a wheelchair in the performance. Additionally, the number of able-bodied cast members does not outnumber the number of disabled artists.

WSN regrets these errors.