Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Directed by Allen E. Phelps.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Explain exactly how that all came about."
John M. Trainor and Meg Dooley; photo provided
And then there were ten (plus one). At least at the start that’s how many people there are in Agatha Christie’s excellent 1945 play, an adaptation of her 1939 novel "Ten Little Indians" in which Scotland Yard is totally baffled by the deaths of ten people in a house and no murder suspect to discover. For the theater adaptation by Christie herself she went another way, leaving murder for romance and an almost Alfred Hitchcock-styled resolution. So popular did this prove that a film as made almost immediately starring Louis Hayward, Walter Huston, Judith Anderson and Roland Young in that same year. This spawned two additional films in 1965 with Hugh O’Brien, Shirley Eaton, Stanley Holloway and Fabian, and 1975 with Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom and Charles Aznavour.
No matter how many times I’ve seen this show or films, no matter how many times I’ve read the book I am always caught up in the excitement of it, the drama and melodrama, the action and the gunshots and I can never remember exactly who-"dun"-it. So seeing it again at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY left me exactly as I’ve been before, caught, aware, guessing like a first-timer. That’s the joy of this play.
With Indians considered a sort of dirty word, we are moved from Indian Island to Soldier Island and the poem and the small statues that break or disappear as each person is killed have been changed from Indians to Soldiers. You’ll still recognize the children’s poem which begins "Ten little soldiers (Indians) went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine." And so the countdown begins.
In this production director Allen E. Phelps (who also has designed the very effective lighting for the show) has done an excellent job of casting his victims. Meg Dooley in the role Judith Anderson once played, Emily Brent, is at turns marginally charming and overwhelmingly moral and religious. Dooley does this switch-off brilliantly and her role emerges as diffidently unsympathetic as possible. Skylar Saltz plays the secretary/governess Vera with the same gusto and anger she used in this theater’s "The 39 Steps" a few weeks ago and it is a very effective way to go in this case, especially considering that Hitchcock ending.
Katie Clark is Mrs. Rogers whose early demise is unfortunate for she was just hitting her stride in this peculiarly sexy role. As her husband, Dominick Varney turns in another excellent portrayal, although his accent seemed to be slipping on opening night. Shaun Rice was most interesting as Dr. Armstrong, a definite suspect on my list in this production. Rice plays the doctor as a slippery sort and he does it nicely.
General MacKenzie (once MacArthur but someone, maybe Christie, changed it) is given a very unusual look in the hands of Sky Vogel. Weaker than in some portrayals he becomes almost a fallen hero instead of an indisputable cad. John M. Trainor plays the Judge with a deliberate passion for authority. He takes this role to new heights, clambering about on furniture and making judgmental statements. It’s a fine, almost maniacal performance.
Steve Triebes is a fine Lombard, not upstanding and not despicable. He is almost too romantic a figure until you consider Hugh O’Brien in that film version. As his youthful counterpoint Marston the company has the exuberant hysteria of Ben Katagiri who takes his character to a new low in personal acclaim. It’s wonderful to watch these two men play opposite ends of the teeter-totter. Aaron S. Holbritter is the enigmatic Blore/Davis. He felt natural and real and that made him even more interesting. Mark Pearson plays Narracot, a character who accidentally replaces the Scotland Yard detective, but not really.
Abe Phelps set could have been a bit more glamorous, just to keep in line with its description in the play’s script and heard in the dialogue. Alysa Couturier’s costumes seemed just about right, although there were a lot of sweater vests on the men. Special sound effects and music were amply provided by Angelina Doherty, I think, and they worked to the good of the play, adding an almost cinematic element.
Guns go off. Axes come down. Statues do their thing. The cast gets smaller with each scene. Mr. U.N. Owen (that reads "unknown") wreaks his vengeance and all is well with the Christie world. This company loves its Agatha plays and this one is a fine example of just why they feel compelled to uphold this tradition. I forgot the ending and you may as well when you see this finely realized production of one of the best plays of its kind. Available for a short time only, you may have to kill just to get a ticket.
And Then There Were None plays at the Theater Barn, located at 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through July 22. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989.