Murder On The Orient Express

August 27, 2019

in Plays

Play (2017)
Adapted by Ken Ludwig
from the novel (1934) by Agatha Christie

Directed by Shaun Kerrison

Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
August 14-31, 2019

Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt; Lighting Design: Richard Latta; Sound Design: Kevin Heard; Projection Design: Jason Lee Courson

With Steven Rattazzi (Hercule Poirot), Olev Aleksander (Head Waiter), Andrew Dits (Samuel Ratchett, Colonel Arbuthnot), Patricia Nooonan (Mary Debenham), Ruth Gottschall (Helen Hubbard), Stephen James Anthony (Hector MacQueen), Christopher Gurr (Monsieur Bouc), Olev Aleksander (Michel, the Conductor), Anita Gillette (Princess Dragomiroff), Anna Temple (Greta Ohlsson), Kate Loprest (Countess Andrenyi)

Steven Rattazzi as Hercule Poirot, Christopher Gurr as Monsiuer Bouc in 'Murder on the Orient Express'

Steven Rattazzi as Hercule Poirot
Christopher Gurr as Monsiuer Bouc
in “Murder on the Orient Express”
Photo: Jay Goldsmith
Courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse

A wonderfully staged version of the classic Agatha Christie railroad mystery with a distinctive Inspector Poirot.

A lot of strange and interesting people find themselves on the great Orient Express train traveling from Istanbul to Western Europe. A murder occurs and the great Christie sleuth Hercule Poirot (Steven Rattazzi) is forced into trying to figure out what’s going on. Could the murderer be the sleek and exotic Countess Andrenyi (Kate Loprest), or the witty and matronly Princess Dragomiroff (Anita Gillette)? Or is something more insidious going on?

The great Ogunquit Playhouse has not done a straight play in twelve years. They specialize in musicals, which they can pull off to perfection. I’ve seen stunning productions of Ragtime and An American in Paris in recent years, and they keep them running off the press regularly throughout the summer.

The current production – a staged version of the Agatha Christie story made famous by the 1974 film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot – brings dramatic stagecraft to Ogunquit audiences without the music but still with considerable pizzazz.

The staging in this production overseen by Beowulf Boritt is one of the stars in itself. With magical projection designed by Jason Lee Courson representing the moving train, and a set of trompe l’oeileffects involving the moving of background scenery to simulate forward motion, a great sense of the movement of the train is effected. As well, elegant set interiors representing the various train cars, along with a moving set that slides them before the expanding and contracting curtain-window, contributes to the overall effect. There are great trees in the background and even the projected simulation of snow. Altogether it creates a comprehensive sense of an exotic trainscape.

There are wonderful exotic characters in this show, but the principal distinction on stage is owned by the Hercule Poirot character as represented by Steven Rattazzi. Rattazzi has a great demeanor in this role – fussy and precise, true to the Christie character, but intense and poignant as well. Rattazzi has a bevy of facial stances that make for sudden and repeated moments of stunned humor and he pulls them all off very well.

As the beautiful and mysterious Countess Andrenyi, Kate Loprest has a persuasive edge, making the character appealingly engaging while betraying the sense that not everything that rises to the surface is a clear result of what lies beneath. When, in fact, there is a moment of revelation, Loprest’s turn away from the audience and transformation has a bit of silent magic to it which she holds very convincingly.

As the aged Princess Dragomiroff, Anita Gillette has a bunch of appealing and funny fast lines, particularly in her pointed give and take with Ruth Gottschall’s dramatically overarching Helen Hubbard.

The end of the play offers a striking denouement, with a growing sense of Poirot’s incisiveness, driven persuasively by Rattazzi’s condensed and developing focus. Poirot’s final gesture is carried off with flair and weightiness, with Rattazzi carrying the moral ambiguity of that denouement in a moment of balanced poise, with means, end and moral principles hovering around him like juggling balls thrown aloft and standing in midair.

Overall: an entertaining show with a great Poirot, an array of other entertaining characters, and some truly distinctive stagecraft.

– BADMan

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