Black Coffee at ACT Theatre
Also see David's review of Ain't Nothin' But the Blues
The detective in the mix is one of Christie's most famous, the wily Belgian Hercule Poirot, who is invited by physicist Sir Claud Amory to his country estate, suspecting that a member of his household is plotting to steal a secret formula he has created for the ministry of defense. Before Poirot arrives, however, Sir Claud is a corpse, and what looks like a heart attack turns out to be, what else, poisoned black coffee! Whodunit and why is pretty irrelevant, though I will admit to not guessing the culprit myself. What matters is that under Beattie's blissfully stylized direction, his cast keeps us thoroughly amused for two hours. No small feat working from a 1930's potboiler.
David Pichette may not be anymore convincingly Belgian as Poirot than Peter Sellers was convincingly Asian as a pseudo-Charlie Chan in Neil Simon's film Murder by Death, but he is effortlessly engaging and dryly amusing as he goes about his snooping. Veteran Seattle thespian Susan Corzatte winningly and whimsically underplays her role as the murder victim's very proper spinster sister Miss Caroline Amory. Jim Gall is a stuffy delight as Richard Amory, who suspects treachery on the part of his Italian wife, played entrancingly by Mary Jane Gibson. The flighty and fey Barbara Amory is expertly essayed by Emily Cedergreen, whose object of affection is a drolly-bemused R. Hamilton Wright, as Poirot's colleague Capt. Hastings. Hilarious Ian Bell appears to have jumped right out of a print of an old thirties mystery movie as blustery Inspector Japp, one of those cops who show up on the scene just about the time the detective has the case solved, and Frank Corrado is subtly menacing as Dr. Carelli, the most obvious suspect. Tim Liese brings a straight forward sort of charm to the role of Edward Raynor, and Laurence Ballard amuses as he collects an easy paycheck for his cameo role as the soon to be late Sir Claud. Brian Thompson as household servant Treadwell and Alan Bryce as both Dr. Graham and the Constable fill their bit parts with aplomb.
Matthew Smucker's forced prospective interior of the Amory Estate is extremely attractive and well served by Christopher Reay's lighting design. Carolyn Keim's costumes are attractive if unremarkable, and Dominic CodyKramers' sound design is full of wonderfully movie-like musical pops.
ACT has chosen well in its initial plunge into an annual mystery to precede the formal start of its season. And as to whodunit? Well let's just say the butler didn't, but you too may have trouble guessing who did.
Black Coffee runs through May 2 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St in downtown Seattle. For more information go to www.acttheatre.org.