Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

UCA Theatre performs in the new black box in the Windgate Auditorium

By: Dec. 05, 2023
Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

Where do actors go to build their craft? They go to school of course, and Arkansas has wonderful collegiate offerings for our budding stars. One of my favorite programs is at the University of Central Arkansas, where the theatre department “engages the student in diverse experiences that emphasize artistic process, self-evaluation, and the connection of academic rigor to realized production,” according to their mission statement at For their 2023 fall production, the UCA Theatre presented AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig and directed by Chris Fritzges.  

Confession-I have never read an Agatha Christie book, so it was fun being introduced to the infamous Hercule Poirot (Bryan Altstatt) and guessing who the murderer was. The play opens with the murder of a small child. After a brief introduction by Detective Poirot, the mystery begins. As people are loading onto the Orient Express, Monsieur Bouc (Keiren Minter) insists that the famous detective ride on his train. Though the conductor Michel (Robin O’Banion) says that the train is full, the Monsieur tells Poirot to take his room. On board is Princess Dragomiroff (Emberlynn Pendergraft), who is traveling with missionary Greta Ohlsson (Leah Fimple). Hector Macqueen (Zane Holloway) is assisting his boss Sanuel Ratchett (Takashi Ito). The Countess Andrenyi (Kathryn Bale) is traveling alone, as well as midwestern Helen Hubbard (Kaitlyn Kelley). Then after secret romancers Mary Debenham (Lucy Speer) and Colonel Arbuthnot (Ashton Fritzges) are on board, it's time for the train to take off. Sometime in the night, Ratchett is killed. Who did it and why? 

Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

This was a great ensemble cast. They really embraced each character’s traits and told the story vibrantly. They made me laugh and kept my fellow audience members and myself engaged in the story. 

Altstatt’s Poirot was methodical and was convincing of really trying to solve the mystery. I really enjoyed watching Minter as Monsieur Bouc with his jovial nature and authoritative control of his train, and O’Banion’s Michel was attentive as the train’s conductor. Kelley’s Helen had a naselly accent and was great at annoying her fellow travelers. Speer’s Mary and Fritzges’s Colonel worked well as a couple and had some sweet moments together. Ito’s Samuel was sleezy and demanding, in a good way of course, and Holloway’s Hector was funny as the nervous assistant. Bale’s Countess carried herself beautifully and with confidence as she matched wits with Poirot. Pendergraft’s Princess was bossy and commanding and was a bit forceful with Fimple’s Greta, who had a gentle demeanor.  

Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

Now let’s talk about that amazing set! First off, the obvious.....a rotating stage! So cool! I’m assuming it was pretty heavy since it took several people to spin it around, but it was functional and changing to the different scenes was fun to watch. On one side of the circle (if you can say the circle has a side) they had the dining area of the train, and on the other side, they had the sleeping quarters. There was a lot detail in that set, and it was so impressive. I also loved how they used the rest of the space in front of the stage. They were in and out of the pathway, which brought the audience closer to the action at times.  

This troupe of thespians were able to perform in the new Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts James M. Bridges Black Box Theatre, which was the perfect space for this show. Intimate venues are becoming a fast favorite for me, because I love how it makes the audience feel like they are part of the show.  

Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

Broadway World asked House Manager Joshua Gibby about the importance of the new theatre and what it means to their theatre department. “The James M. Bridges Blackbox Theatre offers our theatre students the chance to utilize the most up to date equipment and facilities that Theatre has to offer," Gibby said. "Our new space has the capabilities of altering the space to fit every unique production as possibly imagined, while making an up close and personal connection with the audience for an amazing experience for both artist and patron." 

According to the UCA website: 

With an emphasis on collaboration and process, the BA/BS in Theatre grounds each student in the fundamentals of acting, directing, design, technical theatre, and dramaturgy, and allows pursuit of advanced specialty in each of these areas.  The program seeks to connect theatre study and practice to its historical and social contexts and encourages students to engage with their communities and with the wider world. The Theatre program celebrates the UCA Core values of Critical Inquiry, Communication, Responsible Living, and Diversity. 

UCA Theatre promotes excellence in the classroom and on the stage. Students are given production opportunities to direct, stage manage, dramaturg, or take the lead in scenic, costume, lighting, sound, properties, and/or makeup design. Our program is co-curricular, providing a creative forum where theories taught in the classroom can be applied. 

UCA Theatre is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre. This accreditation assures students and parents that the UCA Theatre program meets professional standards in theatre education and training as set fourth by the association. 

For more information about applying to their impressive program, visit their website at 

Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts

Creative Team: Director-Chris Fritzges; Stage Manager-Seth Trostel; Assistant Stage Manager-Hanna Greene & William O’Neil; Lighting Designer-Wyatt Kernodle; Lighting/Sound Mentor-Austin Aschbrenner; Scenic Designer-Michael Moreton; Assistant Scenic Designer-William O’Neill; Scenic Mentor-Tania Barrenechea; Costume Designer-Keagan Styes; Assistant Costume Designer-Alexus Brand & LaDiamond Maker; Sound Designer-Trey Ewart; Props Designer-Aislinn Christy; Hair/Makeup-LaDiamond Maker; Dialect/Intimacy Director-Lauren Carlton. 

Crew: Technical Director-Austin Aschbrenner; Assistant Technical Director-Liz Baker; Light Board-Alli Wildman; Sound Board Op-Jimmy Bowler; Run Crew-Audrey Mason, Danyal Renode, RJ Lewis, Dillon Swackhammer, Quincy Beard, Alexandra Boyd; Lead Draper-Keagan Styles; Draper-Eli Summers, LaDiamond Maker; First Hand/Sticher-Amy Young; Wardrobe Supervisor-Eli Summers; Wardrobe Crew-Emily Wallace, Mariah Foster; Carpenter-Xander Udochi, Trey Ewart, Dillon Swackhammer, Keiren Minter, Bryan Altstatt, Travis Cope, Peter Kha; Paint Crew-Michael Moreton, Wytt Kernodle; Props Artisan-Lucy Speer, Daniel Nuberg, Sarah Habura, Rylee House, Nancy Miller; Usher-Forrest Breshears, Aaron Chesnut; Office Assistant-Kathryn Bale; House Manager-Joshua Gibby; Photographer-Madison Ogle. 

UCA Theatre Faculty & Staff 

Chair/Associate Professor of Theatre-Shauna Meador 

Associate professor of Theatre/Program Coordinator-Chris Fritzges 

Lecturer/Technical Director/Production Manager-Austin Aschbrenner 

Assistant Professor of Theatre-Tania Barrenechea 

Visiting Professor of Theatre-Lauren Carlton 

Lecturer/Costume Shop Manager-Keagan Styles 

Theatre Business Manager-Joshua Gibby 

Review: AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Windgate Center For The Fine And Performing Arts