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Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at The Loretto-Hilton Center On The Campus Of Webster University

Homicide on Holiday at The Rep

By: Mar. 27, 2023
Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at The Loretto-Hilton Center On The Campus Of Webster University  Image
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Agatha Christie's tale of murder and deception gets a fresh coat of paint from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis with their sterling production of Murder on the Orient Express. Capturing the opulence of the passenger line and the gruesomeness of Christie's tale of murder, this is top-notch sleuth stuff.

Set in 1934, the play, adapted by Ken Ludwig at the request of the author's estate, surrounds the happenings aboard the famed luxury train. Traveling from Istanbul to Calais, the Orient Express, is about as fancy as you can get. Filled with an A-list of society's elites, including a countess, a princess, a businessman and a missionary, the train appears to be an ideal getaway for Hercule Poirot, who is looking for a vacation following a very difficult case in Syria.

Accepting an invitation to travel on the liner by his old friend and fellow Belgian, Monsieur Bouc, Poirot is eager to relax. However, once aboard he is instantly suspicious. Noting that nothing seems to be as it appears, he astutely predicts trouble is coming around the bend.

His hunch proves correct after a snowstorm stops the sleeper train in its tracks. Trapped in the drifts, tensions rise after Samuel Ratchet, a wealthy American businessman, is discovered dead. As is the case in most Christie stories, the victim is a person of dubious character.

Ratchet is a despicable human being. So, it comes as no surprise when the combative American is found dead with eight stab wounds. Challenged by a messy crime scene and a cast of suspects with their own vendettas, Poirot begins to investigate.

While the The Rep's excellent production of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express appears to have the trappings of traditional theatrical whodunnits, Director Hana Sharif delves deeper, exploring the motives and means of Christie's rich characters. As is the case in the classic novel, the story explores themes of class and justice amid the world of luxury travel.

The ensemble cast is superbly led by the suave Armando Durán as Poirot. Facing the challenges of playing a prodigiously recognized character, the veteran actor stays cool, giving the Belgian detective airs of vulnerability and curiosity that are often overlooked in other portrayals. Here, Durán fills some large shoes with great panache.

Broadway vet Ellen Harvey also shines as obnoxious American passenger Helen Hubbard. In the age of 'Merica stereotypes her performance resonates particularly loudly. Her characterization is equal parts hysterical and clever. Rep alum Janie Brookshire returns as Countess Andrenyi, an independent woman whose skills of perception make her the perfect accomplice for Poirot's investigation. Kudos are also in order for understudy Aria Maholchic, who deftly took on the role of Mary Debenham.

Also good as Michel the Conductor and a snooty head waiter is Michael Thanh Tran, whose performance here rivals his previous work in The Rep's production of Pride & Prejudice. Onstage, he sells the atmosphere of uncertainty and danger faced by those trapped on the train.

Jamil A.C. Mangan's debut with the company is also solid. Starring as Poirot's dear friend Monsieur Bouc, he gives the character a perfect combination of jitters and authority.

Despite the dramatic execution of the entire cast, the real star of Murder on the Orient Express is the set. Rotating on a spinning platform, it features dining cars, sleeping quarters and inside corridors that mimic the grandiose decadence of 1930s rail travel. Set designer Tim Mackabee has knocked it out the park.

Michael Salvatore Commendatore's projections also shine. As the production starts, a short film is played that depict a series of events that unwittingly set a course for retribution into motion. His projections assist in driving the tension by carefully interspersing segments that frame the emotional gravitas of this compelling murder mystery.

Brimming with Hitchcockian noir and soaked in blood and intrigue, The Rep's Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express excels in every possible way. Great performances, a smart use of projections, gorgeous costumes and a must-see set design come together for a vivid interpretation of Christie's classic thriller.

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express runs through April 9th at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit: www.repstl.org, or call 314-968-4925.




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