note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
The second play in repertory this summer at 2nd Story Theatre is Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, “And Then There Were None” which is fun, well acted and full of assurance and sophisticated refinement throughout its large cast.
“And Then There Were None” is a 1943 play by crime writer Agatha Christie. The play, like the 1939 book on which it is based, was originally titled and performed in the UK as “Ten Little Niggers.” It was also performed under the name “Ten Little Indians.” Christie had been pleased with the book, stating in her autobiography "I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I made of it.” While she didn’t feel it was her best play, she did feel it had the best craftsmanship. After turning down a request to dramatize the book, she did it herself after two years. The original nursery rhyme on which the book was based had an alternative ending which she used in the stage play.
Ten people are enticed into coming to an island under different pretexts, i.e. offers of employment or to enjoy a late summer holiday, or to meet with old friends. In a recorded message, they all have been accused in being complicit in the death(s) of other human beings but either escaped justice or committed an act that was not subject to legal sanction; after dinner the first night and are 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 the nursery rhyme.
Sharon Carpentier is Mrs. Rogers the cook. She is dominated by her bullying husband, who withheld the medicine of their former employer. Mrs Rogers is haunted by the crime. Carpentier is excellent in the role, a fine mixture of guilt and a sense of practicality as the duties of the cook prevail.
Walter Cotter is her husband, Thomas Rogers. He dominated his weak-willed wife and they killed their former elderly employer by withholding her medicine, causing the woman to die from heart failure and inheriting the money she bequeathed them in her will. Cotter is fine in the role, creating a strong sense of dominating his wife by whatever means he has to use. Underneath it all he conveys a sense of sleaziness that permeates everything around him.
The first arrivals of the guests on the island are Miss Claythorne, a secretary and Captain Lombard, a now retied military officer. Jay Bragan is Lombard, soldier of fortune down to his last square meal and desperate circumstances. Lombard is accused of causing the deaths East African tribesmen after he stole their food, leaving them to starve. He has no remorse about what he did at all and has no problem admitting to it. Bragan delivers the role with flair and exuberance. He is self-assured and has a bit of braggadocio about him that makes him charming, even when admitting to his flaws unapologetically.
Erin Elliot is Miss Claythorne is a cool, efficient, resourceful former teacher and governess, who has taken mostly secretarial jobs since her last job as a governess ended in the death of her charge, Cyril Hamilton, whom she intentionally allowed to swim out to sea with complex underlying issues. Elliot is pert and poised in the role, a mixtures of sincere fear with the increasingly dire circumstances and self assured about her.
Charles Lafond is Marston, a devil may care man who drives recklessly all the time without concern or remorse for any consequences. While driving recklessly once he killed to children and his only concern was losing his license for a year, not one iota for the children. Lafond offers a convincing portrait of this self-centered and self indulgent man whose man concern in life is speeding along highways and tough luck for anything or anyone who gets in his way. Lafond is full of swagger and arrogance, delivering the perfect portrait for the role.
Then there is Mr. Blore, Nathaniel Lee, who claims to be a wealthy man from South Africa, but is really something else. Lee is winning as the wealthy man with underlying motives for being there and hides some darker, deeper secrets, including who he really is. Lee delivers a solid performance, gliding effortlessly between his stuffy rich man persona and his real identity which is far more skeptical and distrustful.
General McKenzie is next on the arrival list --- a World War I veteran and hero who is accused of sending his younger wife’s lover to his death in an impossible mission which was doomed from minute one. His past and his experiences on the island make him fatalistic, convinced that no one will leave the island alive. Eric Behr as McKenzie is excellent as a man troubled by his past actions and full of dark feelings about all of their futures on the island. He is the epitome of the stiff upper lip British officer, ready to take it all as it comes.
Then there is Miss Brent, a rigid repressed spinster who harbors ill feelings towards all and I unrelenting in her distastes of modern ways and modern young people, accusing all of such outrageous behavior as to be nearly unbearable. She has showed up on the island due to her increasingly dire financial straits. She dismissed her young maid for getting pregnant out or wedlock, even though the young woman had been dismissed by her parents already as well. The consequences were tragic and Brent has no empathy for the young woman at all or what happens to her. Paula Faber is excellent as Brent with a relentless and dour disapproval in her voice and mannerisms, an air of aloof condescension towards the others that is unyielding and merciless.
Then comes Judge Wargrave, a retired judge known as the hanging judge. The rimes he is accused of is driving a trial to convict a man of murder that most people thought was innocent and turns the trial to deliver a guilty verdict and the man is handed as a consequence. He has no remorse in the matter, in fact remain self convinced and confident that he is blameless and his whole life is totally blameless and a beacon of respectability and pure virtue. Jim Sullivan is excellent s the judge, at once the epitome of a self assured judge, full of conviction in the rightness of his own actions and never doubting his own sincerity or integrity, yet in fear for his life on this island cut off from the rest of the world.
The final guest is Dr. Armstrong, a Harley Street doctor who used to be an alcoholic and went from surgery, which had tragic consequences to treating nerve disorders, by far safer alternative particularly since giving up drinking altogether. F. William Oakes is the doctor who regrets his past but feels there was nothing he could have done or could do to changes that. Oakes provides a consistent fine performance as the doctor with overwhelming guilt from the past, who manages to put one foot in front of the other for the present and to continue his life regardless.
Together, this outstanding cast, deftly directed by Ed Shea is full of rich onstage relationships, skillfully acted and which Shea, as director makes best use of their abilities combined and individually.
The set design by Karl Pelletier, which is also used for “Hay Fever” is superb, lavish and rich in details simply a visual feast and highly impressive. The Ron Cesario costumes are right on the mark, historically accurate and very effective to adding to the mood and atmosphere of the play with panache and finesse. It is gripping and fun theater, full of twist and turns and excellently acted, well directed with wonderful set and costumes, a real winner.