All aboard for 'Murder On The Orient Express' at The Rep
By Chuck Lavazzi
If you are familiar with Agatha Christie’s “Murder On The Orient Express”, either as a book or film, then you know the story, and if not then I am certainly not going to be the one to spoil the ending in this review! Suffice it to say, murder is afoot but fear not, famous detective Hercule Poirot is on the case. You can see him solve the mystery live and in person at St. Louis Rep’s production of the stage version adapted by Ken Ludwig, which opened at the Loretto-Hilton stage March 24th.
The absolute stand out in this production is the fantastic set, designed by Tim Mackabee. There is a replica Orient Express train car placed on a large turntable. With a decked out dining car on one side, three fully furnished first class compartments on the opposite, and a center corridor down the middle as the turntable shifts, it allows us to seamlessly follow the action from space to space. The set is aided by projections (by Michael Salvatore Commendatore) of snow and landscape outside the windows and perfect lighting (by Jason Lynch). Stunning period costumes designed by Fabio Toblini, complete the picture-perfect settings.
In the cast of eleven, a huge shout out to Webster Ensemble member Aria Maholchic who, with a few hours’ notice on the final preview, stepped in as Mary Debenham and then went on opening night, giving a flawless performance. Notable local actors Christopher Hickey, as Colonel Arbuthonot, and Joel Moses, as victim Samuel Ratchet, also provide riveting performances. From out of town, Armando Duràn is spot on as Hercule Poirot and Janie Brookshire is perfectly understated, believable, and appropriately gorgeous as Countess Andrenyi. Sadly, once again several out-of-towners disappoint: specifically, Ellen Harvey’s over-the-top mugging and caricature of Helen Hubbard and Jamil A.C. Mangan’s cartoonish rendition of Monsieur Bouc.
The Rep’s Artistic Director Hana Sharif’s direction is fast paced and on point up until the final reveal when there is so much arm waving and over acting going on it almost feels as if someone else came in and directed it for an acting class or an interpretive dance. But thankfully Poirot calmly brings it all together and, wait for it, brings it back on “track”.
All in all an enjoyable evening of theatre and well worth the price of admission. And while there is a mystery solved on stage, the unsolved mystery is why The Rep continues to spend money on travel and housing for out-of-town actors when there is a plethora of excellent professional actors in our own backyard. Kudos to Ms. Sharif and The Rep for casting four of the cast of eleven with St. Louis actors, to that I say “yes, please, more of that!”. I believe St. Louis audiences are sophisticated enough to want more of the best talent on stage.
“Murder On The Orient Express” at The St. Louis Rep runs through April 9th. For tickets and information go to The Rep website. All aboard!