BWW Review: Walnut Theater's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by Agatha Christie, widely considered her masterpiece and described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. That's not hard to imagine as the staged play is too often a mix between a barrage of endless accusations, theories and an occasional out of sight murder.
In the novel, ten people are enticed into coming to an island under different pretexts. All have been complicit in the death(s) of other human beings but either escaped justice or committed an act that was not subject to legal sanction. The guests are charged with their respective 'crimes' by a gramophone recording after dinner the first night and informed that they have been brought to the island to pay for their actions. They are the only people on the island, and cannot escape due to the distance from the mainland and the inclement weather, yet gradually all ten are killed in turn, in a manner that seems to parallel the ten deaths in a mysterious nursery rhyme.
As with other Christie pieces the characters unfold slowly to reveal their innermost selves giving texture to the story. However in this case the all principle cast interweave so much verbal communication (which is too often unclear to understand) that you may find yourself yawning or wishing for a tidal wave to wipe them all out.
The initial killing is somewhat exciting as it's the only one you actually see. The obvious starts to happen...who's killing who?.. when are we getting off the island?.. And of course, where's the butler!? As the lengthy conversations between murders transpire you realize that each suspicious guest has a history of foul play and it's simply a matter of elimination of the "Ten Little Soldiers" one by one as they read the rhyme and the prophetic crimes take place. At this point one can only hope there will be a double murder to speed things up a bit. As the suspect guests talk endlessly about what they might do to solve their dilemma, Charles Abbott's direction tends to lull the audience into an endless game of Clue.
In defense, the cast is well suited at best for their less than vigorously written roles for the most part. There are a few exceptions. Damon Bonetti as Lombard who believes he can outwit the lot and serves to keep the story as lively as he can. Jessica Bedford plays Vera Claythorne, the mysteriously absent Owens's secretary as a ditsy blonde with perhaps an agenda and never convinces anyone that she is anything else.
Greg Wood, the judge serves as the arbiter commanding the respect and attention of the group and pretty much goes unchallenged for much of the show. This is fine because there is so much banter between the bunch that our brains are saying" ok, just figure this out for us and we'll go with it". The most intriguing character is played by Laurent Giroux, as Blore the former policeman incognito at first. His character is attention grabbing and as comedic as he can make it. We tend to forget this piece is meant to possess a measure of satire, wit and subtle levity.
Wendy Scharfman plays the stuffy self-righteous spinster Emily Brent whom no one suspects of anything as she spins her yarn and pretty much sits quietly throughout the ordeal. Mixed in the mash is the local boatman played by Harry Smith who disperses groceries and mail; a commoner who doesn't seem to care much what others think as he comes and goes very matter-of-factly shooting off an occasional insult to irritate the lot. Paul L. Nolan plays the nervous doctor who specializes in nerve disorder patients making him an oxymoron as well as an obvious suspect having access to at least 2 of the victims.
The servants of the day butler & cook/maid are played by John-Charles Kelly and Sharon Alexander respectively. Peter Schmitz plays the overbearing nuttier-than-a-fruit cake general. The anti climatic ending and final line of the show says it all "And Then There Were None." Sadly this one is a sleeper compared to the excellent production of Agatha Christie's "The Mouse Trap" presented by the Walnut three years prior.
One saving grace is the effective sets by Andrew Thompson. The roomy country parlor is decked with weapons, shields, a wall fireplace with the revealing rhyme displayed above and the 10 disappearing soldiers on the mantle. There are enough entrances and exits to enhance any murder mystery. The main entrance is a huge picture window giving way to a balcony overlooking the sea, which is heard each time a character opens the doors.
And Then There Were None plays at the Walnut Street Theater, 825 Walnut St. Phila. Pa through April 26. For Ticket and Information visit www. Walnutstreettheatre.org or call 215.574.3555
Photo Credits: Mark Garvin