Friday, September 19, 2014

Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ at Lakewood Playhouse

 Published in The News Tribune, Sept. 19, 2014


CURTIS BEECH (Mr. Rogers) and JANE McKITTRICK (Mrs. Rogers) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Lakewood Playhouse is a classic whodunit adapted by Christie from her novel of the same name. A mysterious and never seen man, U.N. Owen invites nine guests to his island home. None of them know each other, and none know Mr. Owen, but they each have something in common that is soon revealed. Each one of them has killed someone or has been responsible for someone’s death through negligence, and they are told that they have been brought to the island in order to force atonement for their guilt.

In classic murder-mystery fashion, each of them is killed off, one-by-one, and it is evident that one of them is the killer. Suspicions grow and the guests begin to fear and to accuse one another as their back stories are revealed; and as their numbers dwindle due to deaths in ways that are reflected by the framed poem “Ten Little Soldiers” that hangs on the wall.

MATT GARRY (Lombard) and JULIE SEIBOLD (Vera) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

For example, the first stanza of the poem is Ten little soldiers went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine,” and the first murder victim dies by choking.

Despite all the murder, it is not a dark or disturbing story. There is ample humor and a fascinating variety of characters, each with his or her unique personality quirks as nicely portrayed by the large ensemble cast. The fun in the show is getting to know these characters and trying to figure out who is going to be killed next and who the killer is.

MATT GARRY (Lombard), THOMAS COOPER PHIEL (Marston) and ERNEST HELLER (MacKenzie) from Lakewood Playhouse's production of "Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE"

But how can there be none left at the end as the poem says? Wouldn’t the killer have to survive? That is the clever twist at the end that I can’t give away. Interestingly, Christie devised two very different twist endings, one for the novel and a very different one for the stage show. Both are complex and inventive.

The set by scenic designer Art Fick is the simple but elegant front room of a country estate with four doors leading to the outside and to bedrooms and kitchens (many of the murders take place off stage; they are not gruesome). One drawback to the set is the plain curtain hanging behind the double doors. There should have been rocks or trees or some such indication on the out-of-doors island setting.
The lighting by Kristen Zetterstrom nicely depicts the natural lighting of sun, darkness of night, interior lighting and candle light, and enhances the dramatic impact of the acting.

First time Lakewood Playhouse director Rick Hornor does a great job of placing and moving about 11 actors in difficult situations such as when a character is murdered in sight of the audience in such a way that no one sees the actual murder.

Best of all, the cast members do a great job of portraying each of these often eccentric characters in such a way that they do not appear to be acting, the one exception being Xander Layden as Sir Lawrence Wargrave. In Layden’s defense, Sir Lawrence is, in fact, playing a role.

Among the standout performers are, first and foremost, Michael Dresdner as William Blore, a police inspector who at first pretends to be a wealthy South African. Dresdner’s acting is the most natural and unaffected, and more than anyone else on stage he manages to enunciate clearly in a British accent.

Dresdner’s wife, Jane McKittrick, is also outstanding as the alcohol-loving maid, Mrs. Rogers. She is the funniest character in the play, and McKittrick portrays her in a most delightful way. To her great credit, this is only her fourth time on stage.

Another husband-and-wife acting team that stands out is the team of Christian Carvajal and Amanda Stevens as the nervous and guilt-ridden Dr. Armstrong and the uptight and puritanical Emily Brent. Her costume and hair style, by-the-way, add immensely to the enjoyment of her character – kudos to costume designer Alex Lewington.

For those who truly appreciate good acting, I encourage paying attention to what these actors do when they are in the background and others are speaking, most notably Carvajal and Ernest Heller as General Mackenzie.

The set-up in act one is necessarily slow to develop, but once they get going it is a roller coaster ride of one surprise after another.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 12
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

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