BWW Reviews: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE Is Enjoyable But Has Some Text Issues
There's nothing like a good murder mystery, and writer Agatha Christie certainly made a career out of them. But while Christie penned 66 detective novels and several plays, I stop short of calling her an expert at the mystery genre. While mystery depends on surprises, Christie often uses conventional devices, and that's the only problem with Austin Playhouse's otherwise stellar production of And Then There Were None. While the company gives it their all, there's a lingering feeling that you've seen this before.
The play, which is based on Christie's 1939 novel of the same name, utilizes a familiar premise. Ten strangers are invited to a party at a mansion, which The Playhouse beautifully brings to life through Patrick Crowley's art deco set. The house is on an island and is completely cut off from the rest of the world with the exception of one boat that comes into port every day. There are no neighbors and no phone line. The guests quickly discover that the party is a rouse. Each guest has been involved in the death of another human being, but all have escaped the legal system. A poem about ten soldiers and their respective demises hangs on the wall, and one by one the guests die in circumstances that parallel the deaths in the poem.
While the novel may be the world's best-selling mystery ever, Christie's plot depends so heavily on suspension of disbelief that at a point, you can't suspend your disbelief any further. The plot is far-fetched, the ending is rushed and implausible, and the exposition takes quite a while to get through (forty minutes go by before the first death).
But despite the problems with the material, Austin Playhouse manages to give the audience a polished and entertaining production, largely due to the talent of the director and cast. Director Laura Toner takes the sitting room mystery and turns it into a gripping thriller. As the evening goes on, the distrust among the party-goers grows. The lavish mansion becomes a pressure-cooker, and Toner masterfully builds the tension and suspense.
Toner's ensemble excels at creating a diverse cast of characters. Christopher Loveless masters the character of Rogers, the quintessential creepy butler. Bernadette Nason, an Austin Playhouse favorite, brings a welcome dose of humor to the role of Emily Brent, a bible-thumping spinster who believes she is above everyone else. A moment in which she reads from the bible is particularly funny, and her looks of undisguised revolution and derision at the other characters are hysterical. Hildreth England is also quite memorable as Vera Claythorne, a likeable secretary and former governess. England excels at allowing her character to unravel as the body count increases. The only member of the cast that misses the mark is Stephen Mercantel as Anthony Marston. Mercantel is so distractingly overblown as the character of the arrogant alcoholic, you may find yourself hoping that he'll be among the first to go.
Though there are plenty of problem areas in Agatha Christie's stage version of And Then There Were None, Austin Playhouse's production of it is as solid as it can be. Thanks to a few impressive performances and Laura Toner's skillful direction, And Then There Were None is an enjoyable whodunit with plenty of suspense.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes, including two 10 minute intermissions.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE plays the Austin Playhouse inside the Highland Mall, located at 6001 Airport Blvd, Austin 78752. Performances are Thursday- Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm now thru December 22nd. Tickets are $28-$30. For tickets and information, visit www.austinplayhouse.com.