By Karen Isaacs
Hartford Stage is presenting the stylish production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express that originated last year at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. It won raves and it is now in Hartford – with a few cast changes – through Sunday, March 25.
If you are a Christie fan, this is sure to delight you, even if you saw the recent film remake of the famous mystery; I’ve heard that the remake was less than stellar.
Yet even if you find Christie’s plots too convoluted, you will enjoy this production. It features inventive sets, terrific costumes and wonderful acting.
Director Emily Mann, the McCarter’s artistic director, has done a masterful job of keeping the pace up. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation adds laughs to the other aspects of the mystery,
In case you don’t remember the plot, the mystery begins in Istanbul where in the mid-1920s, a number of passengers board the famed train, the Orient Express, for a trip to England. Surprisingly (it is winter) the first class carriage is full. One of the passengers is the famed Belgium detective Hercule Poirot returning to London from a brief vacation. The play begins with a brief scene of a little girl being abducted.
As soon as the train leaves the station, an American (Ratchett) asks Poirot to investigate the threatening letters he has been receiving; Poirot turns him down. By the next morning, Rachett has been murdered and the train is soon stranded in a snow drift.
Why was he killed? Who did it? At first look at the passengers, all seem unlikely suspects. There’s Princess Dragomiroff, a member of Russian nobility in exile, and her companion Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary who works with babies in Africa. Countess Andrenyi is an American physician who married nobility; Colonel Arbuthnot is the married Scottish Army officer in love with Mary Debenham. Then there’s the rich, multi-married widow from Minneapolis (Helen Hubbard), as well as the assistant (Hector McQueen) to the murdered man and Michel, the head steward on board the train.
Poirot quickly determines that the killer was someone on the train, but who? The clues point in all sorts of directions. And the question also remains, why was Ratchett killed?
If you have seen one of the film versions, it is the not the answer to those questions that will keep you entertained, but the way the cast and the production get you to the solution.
The production team has created memorable sets, costumes lighting and sound. Hartford Stage has reverted to a proscenium theater. Beowulf Boritt created a series of art-deco train cars that roll on and off the stage to show us the cabins, the lounge, the back caboose and other elements. If this what the Orient Expressed looked like, I wish I had traveled on it. It epitomizes the elements of the art-deco style.
William Ivey Long has designed costumes of the period for the characters; again many are in the art-deco style of the 1920s.
But even with these elements, it all depends on the cast. This cast is overall, terrific.
David Pittu is new to the role of Hercule Poirot but he manages to bring his own originality to the role. The Belgium detective has been played through the years by so many outstanding actors, that it might difficult for Pittu to bring something new to the part. But he does. He adds a note of romantic longing to the character. Only two other cast members are new; each is fine. Ian Bedford has taken the roles of Ratchett and Colonel Arbuthnot and Leigh Ann Larking the role of Countess Andrenyi.
Julie Halston reprises her role as the many time married Helen Hubbard. She brings just the right mixture of stereotypical obnoxious American tourist and frightened woman to the part. Halston is a gifted comedienne and draws out all the humor in the script.
Veanne Cox creates Princess Dragomiroff as the dignified exile and Samantha Steinmetz creates the earnest (and perhaps a little simple) Greta Ohlsson.
You may not be surprised at the ending, but you will have had a delightful getting to the Orient Express’s final destination.
It is at Hartford Stage through Sunday, March 25. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.