Brian Bowman, Tina Jo Wallace, and Jon Huffman in And Then There Were None.
And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Agatha Christie herself counted this story one of her best, and it as often referred to as her “masterpiece.” The now iconic plot device of killing off characters one by one has been copied and parodied ad nausea, but Christie’s is the original. Ten people summoned to an island by a mysterious stranger only to find their missing host has discovered secrets from their past. Following the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” (updated from Christie’s use of the controversial British version), the characters begin to expire.
The novel and the stage adaptation have slightly different endings, but the idea of the story is one of the handful of truly innovative works from Christie. There is little pretense that the audience will figure out the mystery; instead, there is mounting dread and suspense drawn from what was then an unorthodox structure that still functions well enough today.
Bekki Jo Schneider’s production does fairly well by the material, although the in-the-round format tends to work against the script’s intention. A more atmospheric and claustrophobic set design would better suit the material, but the demands of the venue prevent it.
There is also some degree of declaiming instead of character work from the cast, but I liked Tina Jo Wallace’s Vera Claythorne very much. Ms. Wallace often plays dowdy and comic at Derby Dinner Playhouse, and it was nice to see her play intelligence balanced with voluptuous and sexy. Zachary Burrell was unafraid to play the one-dimensional unctuousness of Anthony Marston, and DDP stalwart Cary Wiger did well by Dr. Armstrong. Best of all was the contrasting work from J.R. Stuart as the blustery William Blore, and Jon Huffman as the analytical jurist Sir Lawrence Wargrave. Stuart earns laughs with small bits of physical comedy that are models of economy, while Huffman pitches his character with nicely understated detail and contained energy; two pros in action.
But character development is not uppermost in the author’s mind here. So when David Myers, Janet Essenpreis, Bill Hanna and Rita Thomas are unable to lift their characters beyond their clichéd first dimension: aging retired military, bitter and self-righteous spinster, and dutiful servants, it perhaps owes as much to the limitations of the script. Brian Bowman’s Philip Lombard is a capable enough performance as the lead and developing romantic interest for Ms. Wallace, but his breezy approach seems to belong in a romantic comedy rather than a mystery with a rising body count.
Of course, even this much discussion threatens to spoil the story, and this reviewer will not be caught giving away too much, even if the plot can be researched easily enough online. And Then There Were None stands as solid entertainment built on the formal structure and internal logic of the mystery, delivered by the sure hand of one of the masters.
And Then There Were None
September 29 – November 8, 2015
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.