And Then There Were None
Also see Richard's review of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Sarajane Alverson as Vera Claythorne and a cast of (mostly) oddball characters arrive at an island retreat, only to be picked-off one by one, in ways that often seem embarrassingly funny. There is a steady, rising tension, thanks to Ms. Alverson and a few others, which makes the second-to-last confrontation completely riveting. After that, well, you're speeding along with one flat tire.
(The actor-or actress-playing the killer, when finally revealed, shows great precision and intensity and apparent loyalty to what playwright Agatha Christie intended. But as written, it's the worst part of the show. And long, too. Olivier couldn't save it. Hopefully, the performer in question earns big karma points for juicy roles in the future.)
Gary F. Bell directs, and he and his cast are certainly intelligent and thorough, so that you really have to just take it for granted that most of the characters must be intended come off as completely false, now and then, to heighten uncertainty.
Even Jeff Kargus, as a British (possibly disgraced) army officer, seems to be doing a really bad Clark Gable impression for at least the first 2/3 of the three-hour play (he turns more natural in the final act). But, knowing director Bell's work, and some of Mr. Kargus', I just cannot believe it was a lack of talent or simple bad planning. Mr. Bell is an extremely thorough, hard-working director; and Mr. Kargus is a very good actor who seemed to have shattered his soul on stage in the recent Rx. I have a lot of respect for both of them. But, somehow, I just don't get it this time.
Still, some of the others in the cast manage to do amazing things in spite of the script. So, for God's sake (as a general rule in life) don't come up on stage alongside Michael Juncal (as Mr. Davis) or Judy E. Yordon (as an obnoxious old biddy) unless you've brought your A-game. Both actors manage to play a level of utterly sincere melodrama that exists entirely within the realm of serious acting, which makes them striking and alive. And yet, they also seem to be purely Christie types, of the sort that we've come to know over the decades.
Fine work by David Gibbs (as always) and by Ryan Wiechmann as a young swell who almost runs Mr. Gibbs off the road, before the show's begun.
As for Ms. Alverson, she maintains a disturbing, pensive quality throughout, which somehow manages to complement each of her stage partners, on all their different levels of performance. Her darting eyes and desperation also maintain the premise that this assortment of haunted individuals really is trapped on an island off the coast of Devon. Each of them has been singled out as a murderer (in a mysterious announcement) and each of them (on some level or other) is clinging to some vague concept of redemption, as Christie aficionados would expect.
But it's impossible to hold all the threads of guilt in one hand. At least in Murder On The Orient Express everything led back to a single person (spoiler alert)the victim, in that case. Here, it's just one big Harrods catalog of murders, ranging from the small and accidental, on up to the mass variety, from all over the world. And we have very little hope of keeping track of any character's motivation.
The one unifying aspect of the story is that they're all trying to figure out an odd children's rhyme that predicts their fates (this part is occasionally fun, I have to admit). But the explanations of each person's different reasons for having a guilty conscience go flying by, as do their brief moments of introspective guilt. And the lack of focus, from these two writing choices, robs us of any particular voyeuristic anguish.
Rob Lippert's set is very nice; it resembles the prairie-style home near the end of North By Northwest. (Mr. Lippert also does very nicely as a deliveryman from the neighboring English coastline.) Perhaps the lighting could have been more evocative, though they get very good use out of a pair of lightning boxes in the light plot.
Through October 25, 2014, at the Tower Grove East Abbey. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org or call (314) 865-1995.
Cast (in order of appearance)