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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Murder on the Nile
Hedgerow Theatre

Agatha Christie's 1937 novel "Death on the Nile" has proven to be one of the more durable whodunits ever written by the so-called Queen of Crime. It's inspired several adaptations over the years, including movie, TV and radio versions. In 1944, Christie adapted her novel for the stage and renamed it Murder on the Nile. The transition wasn't a perfect one; the stage version doesn't work quite as well as its other adaptations. But if you're in the mood for a lighthearted, entertaining little mystery with a clever twist, Murder on the Nile certainly fits the bill, and Hedgerow's production does a good job of bringing it to life.

Christie devised one of her typically improbable yet ingenious plots for Nile, all about a glamorous young couple (he's a social climber, she's "the richest girl in England") taking a cruise down the Nile on a paddle steamer. Alas, they're being followed, and tormented, during their honeymoon by the groom's former fiancée. The ex seems to be demented, but is she a murderer? Perhaps not, as there are plenty of other suspicious passengers on this tiny boat when dead bodies start turning up.

Murder on the Nile streamlines the plot of the novel. There are fewer characters, and the action is confined to one set, the boat's lounge. The early scenes are loaded with exposition, and David O'Connor's direction can't always make these scenes work. The surprising, violent climax of the story has been omitted, replaced by a more subdued ending. And there's one huge difference between the play and the other adaptations: Christie apparently was temporarily tired of her brilliant detective hero Hercule Poirot, so she cut him out of the play. He's replaced by a far less colorful and endearing sleuth, an Anglican priest named Canon Ambrose Pennefather. Zoran Kovcic is appropriately authoritative as Pennefather, but Murder on the Nile needs a dose of Poirot's charm.

Still, there's a lot of pleasure to be had here, as long as you don't take the show too seriously. A few of the supporting performances are sub-par, but some terrific lead performances more than make up for that. The standout is Aphrodite Nikolovski as the scorned fiancée; she takes a stock character and imbues her with palpable anguish. And Susan Wefel is very funny as a snobby society matron.

Murder on the Nile isn't all it could be, but it's a nice way to spend a couple hours.

Murder on the Nile runs through November 21, 2010, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Ticket prices are $25, with discounts for seniors and children, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-565-4211, online at www.hedgerowtheatre.org or in person at the box office.

Murder on the Nile
By Agatha Christie
Directed by David O'Connor
Scenic Design: Zoran Kovcic
Sound and Lighting Design: David O'Connor
Costume Design: Cathie Miglionico
Stage Manager: Rachel Alulis

Cast:
Beadsellers... Animesh Karna, Natesh Karna
Steward... Steve Gudelunas
Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes... Susan Wefel
Christina Grant... Rachel Holmes
Smith... Jeffrey Rudolph Berry
Louise... Saundra Montijo
Dr. Bessner... Thomas-Robert Irvin
Kay Ridgeway... Rebecca Miglionico
Simon Mostyn... Dave Polgar
Canon Pennefather... Zoran Kovcic
Jacqueline de Severac... Aphrodite Nikolovski
Captain McNaught... Carl Smith


-- Tim Dunleavy



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