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And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
October 9, 2014

Cast of And Then There Were None Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Cast of And Then There Were None
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

 

Agatha Christie shows can be difficult to write about for fear of spoiling the plot, and And Then There Were None is particularly difficult considering the intricacies of its plot.  Stray Dog Theatre has chosen this well-known show as its season opener, and it’s no spoiler to say that I think it’s one of their stronger productions.  With fine casting and especially impressive technical details, this play manages to maintain the anticipation and mystery throughout.

The most common question I get when I tell people I’m going to see a Christie show is “is it Marple or Poirot?”  This one, notably, is neither. Even though it’s one of Christie’s more well-known works, her two most famous detective characters are absent, and the sleuthing duties are divided up between various characters at different times.  It tells the story of a group of strangers all invited to a mysterious island retreat by a host none of them seem to know.  On prominent display in the house is a set of ten ceramic soldier figures, lined up on the fireplace mantel with a framed plaque above it featuring a rhyme about “Ten Little Soldier Boys” and how, one by one, they are eliminated in various ways.  This seems like a simple decoration to the guests until the murders start happening, curiously in ways that parallel the rhyme.  There’s also an eerie recorded welcome message that greets them, accusing each one of a different particular crime, which prompts confessions, suspicion, and accusations from the guests.  Just how many murders are there, and does anyone actually figure out who did it before there’s nobody left to find out?  You will just have to watch and see.

This is ‘whodunit” I’ve seen before, but since it was so long ago, I didn’t remember exactly how the story played out. It’s a credit to director Gary F. Bell and the excellent pacing to admit that I was kept guessing until the end, even though I had inklings of how it was going.  All the intricate twists and turns of the plot are played out very well, with the focus on those little figurines on the mantel getting more and more obvious as the plot unfolds, as the figures disappear in succession, as if by magic, as the murders occur. The style is typical Christie, with broadly defined characters and elements of dark comedy thrown in with the mystery. The production details here add to the suspense, including some atmospheric music that plays at key moments and a terrific set designed by Rob Lippert and some classy Mid-Century Modern furniture provided by The Future Antiques store.  Eileen Engel’s marvelously detailed costumes also add to the overall Christie-ish atmosphere.

The characters are memorable and well-played by an enthusiastic cast. It’s difficult as a critic here, though, because talking about the characters too much would potentially give away plot details, and there are some surprising twists in characterization that are essential to the play’s conclusion.  It’s a very strong 11-member cast, with standout performances from Stray Dog regulars Sara Jane Alverson as nervous secretary Vera Claythorne and Zachary Stefaniak as authoritarian judge Sir Lawrence John Wargrave. Other standouts in the cast are Judy E. Yordon as the haughty and sanctimonious Emily Caroline Brent, Jeff Kargus as in a Clark-Gable-esque performance as adventurer Philip Lombard, Mark Abels as the seemingly even-keeled Dr. Edward George Armstrong, Michael Juncal as confrontational police detective William Henry Blore, and David K. Gibbs as the fastidious General MacKenzie.  There is a minor issue with uneven British accents, but that doesn’t detract from the overall characterization, and the players do an excellent job of building and maintaining the suspense of the piece, as suspicions rise and emotions get increasingly tense as the play draws to its surprisingly unpredictable conclusion.

Keep an eye on those little figures.  I wasn’t ever able to notice one falling, but their gradual disappearance greatly adds to the drama, and I found myself looking back at them regularly. They’re almost like characters in the play themselves, supporting the performances of the strong ensemble of actors.  Christie shows aren’t particularly deep, but when done well, her mysteries are riveting and entertaining.  This is a strong, suspenseful, thoroughly entertaining season opener for Stray Dog Theatre.

 

Cast of And Then There Were None Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Cast of And Then There Were None
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

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