BWW Reviews: Perfectly Entertaining Mystery at 2nd Story Theatre's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
If there was an award for Rhode Island's current busiest man in show business, one of the nominees would absolutely have to be 2nd Story Theatre's Ed Shea. The company's Artistic Director is currently performing in the Downstage production of Freud's Last Session. Last night, in the Upstage space, he made an appearance and gave the curtain speech for Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which he directed.
During his visit upstairs, Shea spoke about summer stock theaters and how they once dotted the landscape in these parts. No longer as much of a presence as they once were, they featured a certain kind of theater experience, something lighter, more whimsical and fun than the weighty, thought-provoking works seen throughout the winter months. That sense of offering something entertaining and fun permeates his entire production of Christie's play, a perfect summertime treat of mystery and murder, tempered with the right amount of wit and whimsy.
The play's plot is a relatively familiar one, well worn out over the decades since Christie first wrote the novel upon which it is based. Ten strangers arrive at a mysterious mansion on a mysterious island. Even more mysterious is their host, conspicuous in his absence. As the guests try to ascertain who, exactly, has brought them all to this place at this time, an even greater mystery is revealed. A disembodied voice echoes through the room, telling them that they are all meant to pay for crimes they have committed in the past, and they will pay with their lives.
For a play featuring mayhem and murder, Shea keeps things about as lively and fun as possible. The pace is fairly quick, although the play feels a bit long due to two intermissions. The ensemble is somewhat large but Shea moves them around skillfully, like chess pieces, never revealing anything until the precise and appropriate moment. Nothing is given away too soon and all the plot twists and turns are well staged. The only complaint comes from the way Shea has directed the play's climax.
When all is revealed, what follows happens much too fast. The whole final moment, and everything has built up to this moment, occurs at a breakneck pace with an actor speaking so fast you can hardly take in everything that's being said. It really diminishes the impact and enjoyment of the ending. It would be so much more effective to let that last ten minutes breathe, let the actors take their time with it, relish in it. And let the audience have the chance to really absorb and process the shocking reveal as well as the final surprising twist. It's such a fantastic payoff, it's a shame that it's not given the proper staging to really let us enjoy it.
As for the actors, they all seem to be enjoying their time in this production, every one of them giving an energetic and enthusiastic performance. Erin Elliot is, as always, fantastic as Miss Claythorne, a young woman who may be the closest thing to the play's center. She's got some of the play's best moments and Elliot's fear and anxiety always feel entirely real. There are only two other women in the cast, Sharon Carpentier as Mrs. Rogers and Paula Faber as Miss Brent. Carpentier does a fine job with the small role she has to play and Faber is another always-reliable performer who gives yet another excellent performance.
They are joined by eight actors who fill out this wonderful ensemble, though they have varying degrees of stage time. Eric Behr is excellent as the more-than-a-little eccentric General MacKenzie. F. William Oakes and Jim Sullivan are both great as two other senior members of the group, Dr. Armstrong and Judge Wargrave, respectively. Charles Lafond gives a wonderful performance as the arrogant, annoying young Mr. Marston. The standout among the group is Jay Bragan as Captain Lombard. I don't recall seeing Bragan on one of our local stages, but a little Google searching reveals his impressive qualifications as a performer. He has plenty of charisma and charm to spare, along with a talent for both the witty, sarcastic moments and the tense, sinister ones. His onstage chemistry with Erin Elliot is another key to the play's success. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.
Finally, mention must be made of the production values found on the 2nd Story stage. There is no denying, this show is gorgeous to look at. The set by Karl Pelletier, which is also being used for the production of Hay Fever, I was told, is beautiful. The luxurious mansion setting is well appointed and finely detailed. The costumes for this production, by Ron Cesario, are also truly fabulous, although a little ill-fitting once or twice. This may be one of the most easy-on-the-eyes productions you will ever see, which only makes the great unfolding mystery even more enjoyable to watch.
And Then There Were None runs through August 31st. Performances are at 7:30pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (except for Sunday the 3rd, which features a 2:30pm performance and no 7:30 performance). Tickets are $30 for adults and $21 for anyone under 21. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, at 28 Market Street in Warren, Rhode Island, by calling 401-247-4200, or by visiting the theater's website at www.2ndstorytheatre.com.
Pictured: The cast of And Then There Were None. Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.