Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Great Lakes Theater

Now on stage through March 3rd.

By: Feb. 12, 2024
Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Great Lakes Theater

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. 

Known as “The Duchess of Death", the "Mistress of Mystery", and the "Queen of Crime,’” her popularity was based on her plots being possible and logical.  As a literary critic once wrote, "At the start of each novel, she shows us an apparently impossible situation and we go mad wondering ‘How can this be happening?'. Then, slowly, she reveals how the impossible is not only possible but the only thing that could have happened.”

Though she is best known for her novels, she also wrote the world's longest-running play, THE MOUSETRAP which has been performed continually in London since 1952.  An interesting bit of theater history is that Christie gave the rights, and therefore all of the royalties to THE MOUSETRAP, to her grandson Mathew Prichard as his 9th birthday present.

Because Dame Christie wrote plays, be aware that MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, don’t assume that she was the script’s author.  The playscript was adopted by Ken Ludwig, from the Christie book.

Ludwig is a well-known writer who specializes in farcical works.  His LEND ME A TENOR, MOON OVER BUFFALO, SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD, THE GAMES AFOOT and A COMEDY OF TENORS have had local productions.  In fact, THE THREE MUSKETEERS is now on stage at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre.  His LEADING LADIES, received its world premiere at Houston’s Alley Theatre, in co-production with the Cleveland Play House.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is widely regarded as one of Agatha Christie’s greatest literary achievements.  First published in 1934, the play version had its world premiere in 2017.

“It's 1934.  Passengers aboard the opulent Orient Express awake to frightful news: Overnight, the American business mogul among them was stabbed to death behind locked doors. Thankfully, debonair detective Hercule Poirot is on the train and on the case. He promptly begins interviewing suspects, securing alibis and forming theories about the killer, who remains at large and could be closing in on the next victim. As the plot thickens and the travelers grow restless, Poirot presents scenarios about who murdered the mogul and why, taking the audience on a wildly glamorous crime-solving ride.”

It helps, in watching the play to know that the novel is a meditation on revenge and justice. In addition, Ludwig’s adaptation for the stage streamlines the plot, which was inspired by the famous kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.  Be aware that the ending is unlike any that Christie ever wrote as two different conclusions can logically be induced.  Also, that the GLT production is directed by the theater’s Artistic Director, Charles Fee.

Fee, as the director makes a great difference in how the play is staged.  He loves farce.  There is no slammed door, double-entendre, pratfall, absurdity, ridiculous situation, reversal of expectations and mistaken identity, that the man does not like, and he feels obligated to use as many as possible in his staging. 

Given that Ludwig is a master at writing farce, and Fee is accomplished in staging them, the audience gets a delight filled “Christie” experience.

Fee is supported by a superb set of technicians.  Rick Martin’s opulent, art-deco revolving “moving” train set is ingenious.  His lighting design and Patrick John Kiernam’s sound design underscore the tension and action.  There is even a snow storm on stage.

The large cast, is headed by David Anthony Smith, and his marvelous mustache, as Hercule Poirot.  The actors all know how to perform the difficult task of performing farce.  Every one of them is believable as the perpetuator of the crime.   And, who knows, maybe they are!!!  Hmm…who did it…the conductor or the actress or the secretary or . . .?

Capsule judgment:  Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS gets a wonderful staging at GLT.  It challenges the imagination, it delights, it makes for a special evening of theatre.  Yes, if you want a couple of hours out of the time we are all spending in this stressful world, this is an absolute GO SEE!

Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS runs through March 3, 2024.  For tickets go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org  (216) 241-6000.

Next up:  March 22-April 7, 2024:  THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.




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