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Theater review: 'Witness' a winner!

It must've been a daunting task for a novice actress. Having never before acted in public, Rachel Germaine Torba-Grage was cast in the title role of Agatha Christie's "Witness for the Prosecution," being staged through Nov. 7 by the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild.

Torba-Grage plays Romaine Vole, the duplicitous wife of murder suspect Leonard Vole, accused of killing an elderly spinster to inherit her fortune.

Romaine is no stock character.

A stern, self-assured German whose Aryan beauty has begun to fade, Romaine bedazzles her husband's defense attorney, Wilfrid Robarts, with her cynical view of Leonard's precarious situation. As the action unfolds in the courtroom, Romaine reveals layer upon layer of deceit, and Rachel rises to each occasion with a measured yet mesmerizing performance.

Torba-Grage's auspicious acting debut is deftly supported by a solid BTG cast, under the understated direction of John LaCasse.

Jon Barden's defense attorney has a computer-quick brain, but a decidedly human heart. Jordan Glaski is equally convincing as Robarts' glib and slippery client, a man who claims he can't understand why his wife would turn on him during his trial. Bob Fullenbaum as the prosecutor and Donna Reynolds as the judge ably embody officialdom.

The supporting cast includes Jay Burris, Kitty Doupe, Cole Salo, Lee LaManche, George Glaski, Cece Kulak, Barbara Derby and Kim Marie Jakway.

But one character actress nearly steals the show: Robin Bridenbecker portrays the murdered spinster's maid, Janet Mackenzie, complete with a brogue, thick glasses and a garishly feathered blue hat. Her exchanges with Barden's defense attorney are both ridiculous and revealing. Bridenbecker's simply brilliant in her brief, broadly comic scene.

But "Witness," with its labyrinthine twists and turns, is really Romaine's play, and BTG is fortunate to introduce Rachel Torba-Grage in this difficult role.

"I'm over the moon to be portraying the character played by Marlene Dietrich in the movie version," Rachel writes in the play's program.

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