Agatha Christie’s tale of delicious revenge
We all know the meaning of the phrase, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Vengeance is more satisfying when exacted sometime after the original offense, when least expected.
Perhaps one of the finest examples of this proverb may be found in Agatha Christie’s famed 1934 mystery, Murder on the Orient Express.
If you’ve never read Christie’s book, chances are you’ve seen Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film with Albert Finney as the fastidious Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Or the 2017 film in which Kenneth Branagh was both director and star detective.
Both are hard acts to follow, but fortunately, the ensemble cast of The Everyman Theatre is up to the task as Vincent M. Lancisi directs the Ken Ludwig adaption of Christie’s whodunit.
Setting the stage
The Orient Express began service in 1883 as an opulent international railroad, originally connecting Paris and Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). It was essentially the opulent Titanic on rails, minus the iceberg tragedy.
There is, however, considerable snow and ice cleverly projected through the train “windows” to set the stage for a grisly act of revenge: the murder of passenger Samuel Ratchett (Danny Gavigan) during the trip. He is discovered by the passenger in a neighboring compartment, stabbed to death.
Kudos to Gavigan, whose quick-change skills were on display as he portrayed both Ratchett (pre-murder) and Colonel Arbuthnot. Having to toggle between Ratchett’s “hey-youse-guys” Bowery Boys accent to something akin to Scottish for the Colonel, not to mention costume and wig changes, could not have been easy.
Enter perennial Everyman favorite Bruce Randolph Nelson as Poirot, who plays the private detective with considerable wit (and the character’s amusing Belgian/French accent).
The international flair of the passenger roster also includes Lilian Oben’s Hungarian Countess Andrenyi, Jefferson A. Russell’s Monsieur Bouc, Beth Hylton’s Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson, and Helen Hedman’s Russian Princess Dragomiroff.
Kudos are due to dialect coach Gary Logan for handling this veritable United Nations of vocals. The cultural variety also serves as a key plot point as the mystery begins to unfold in the mind of Poirot.
The story’s deeper dilemma
Christie’s play is more than a simple whodunit. It also raises a key issue in her most developed character, Poirot, who must weigh what is morally right versus what is justice.
The two are not always the same, and Nelson does a superlative job in expressing the detective’s tortured choice. Should a monster’s deserved end destroy the lives of people traumatized by the villain’s acts?
Chances are, most of the audience will be well aware of the 85-year-old mystery’s solution. It is, therefore, a testament to the actors’ skills and acumen of the stage staff that the recreation of Ratchett’s murder managed to have such a disturbing effect on the audience.
As Lancisi, who is also founder and artistic director of the Everyman, noted before curtain, “You’re all in for a heck of a ride!”
Still, the greatest mystery may be how the set, projection and lighting designers Daniel Ettinger, Rasean Davonte Johnson and Harold F. Burgess, II, successfully manage to bring a multi-compartment moving train, a blizzard and a busy café in Istanbul, all to life on a single stage. As Poirot might say, “Mon Dieu!”
The play runs through Jan. 5. Tickets are $10 to $69 and may be purchased online at everymantheatre.org, by calling (410) 752-2208, or in person at the box office, located at 315 W. Fayette St., Baltimore.
Patrons 62+ get a $5 discount on tickets for Saturday matinees and Sunday evenings.
Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography