Original Article: https://www.chicagotheatrereview.com/2019/07/macabre-and-mysterious/
And Then There Were None – Drury Lane
Agatha Christie’s best-selling murder mystery—in fact, the greatest-selling crime novel of all time—is a thriller known almost everywhere in the world. Originally published in 1939 (under two different, less politically correct titles), the page-turner remains as popular today as it was when it was first hit the bookstore shelves. The novel, and Ms. Christie’s own stage adaptation, takes its current title from the last five words of a nursery rhyme that inspires the murders in this mystery story.
Imagine the allure of being invited to spend a weekend at a posh mansion on a private island, just off the coast of Devon, England. Eight people, of varying ages and from different walks of life, all receive written invitations from a mysterious U.N. Owen to join him or her at a secluded sanctuary for a couple days of rest and relaxation. None of the eight guests can recall ever personally meeting their host, but each is anxious for a holiday away from the daily grind.
Fred Narracott shuttles the eight strangers by boat into the welcoming arms of Thomas and Ethel Rogers. Mr. Owen arbitrarily had hired the married couple to work as butler and cook for the weekend party. Upon arriving at the house, however, the guests learn that the Owens have been unexpectedly detained until the following day, but that their guests should feel at home and enjoy themselves.
Although this strikes the eight strangers as being somewhat odd, they never-the-less change into their best dinner finery and begin enjoying the bar. It’s during this interlude that a recording begins to boom throughout the drawing room. A mysterious, disembodied voice accuses each of the eight individuals, along with Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, of having committed murder. The recording then asks if anyone wishes to offer a defense. Each guest responds in a different way, ranging from an admission of guilt, to complete denial. When Ethel Rogers reacts by passing out cold the play suddenly turns into a thriller.
One of the guests happens to notice a large, framed depiction of a familiar children’s nursery rhyme prominently hanging over the mantle. The poem relates how “Ten Little Soldiers,” one by one, met his demise through a litany of bizarre occurrences. It then becomes clear to everyone that a madman is plotting to kill each of them, as prescribed by the events in the poem. Suddenly the plot thickens.
Guest director Jessica Fisch, whose fine work has been enjoyed at such theatres as Steppenwolf, Rivendell and Northlight, has mounted an elegantly stylish production that’s equally balanced between the horrible and the humorous. The macabre comes after each bloody murder scene; but the characters’ comic, sometimes campy, reactions to the deaths often provoke laughter. Reminiscent of a well-constructed puzzle, this deliciously diverting, playful production will keep audiences guessing until the final scene.
Ms. Fisch has guided her talented cast with a fine hand and a firm commitment to tell Agatha Christie’s tale of terror with flair and finesse. The entire cast is wonderful. Cher Alverez, a standout in Steppenwolf Theatre’s moving “La Ruta,” is like a breath of fresh air, as Vera Claythorne. Ms. Alverez is at once strong, sophisticated and sympathetic as the heroine of this murder mystery. Appearing as classy as a Vogue model, Cher is stunning in Jessica Pabst’s authentic-looking period costumes. Marking her Drury Lane debut, hopefully this won’t be the last time we see Cher Alverez on the Oakbrook stage.
Yousof Sultani also makes his auspicious debut at Drury Lane. He plays the dashingly handsome, somewhat cocky, yet modestly militant Philip Lombard, the leading man of Christie’s play. With a smile that would melt any woman’s heart, Mr. Sultani’s portrayal is personable. Matt De Caro is the gifted Chicago veteran actor who plays Sir Lawrence Wargrave, the retired English magistrate, known as the hanging judge, for liberally awarding the death penalty. Remembered for his magnetic, Jeff-Awarded portrayal of Big Daddy in last year’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Mr. De Caro once again creates a strong, riveting character who effortlessly holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
Marilyn Dodds Frank is perfection as the obstinate, straight-laced, rigidly religious Emily Brent. As a woman who sees sin and debauchery in everyone, Ms. Frank is eloquent, humorous and yet, because she doesn’t find any joy in her life, elicits a bit of sympathy because of her continual criticism. Returning to the Drury Lane stage, after appearing in both “Joseph…Dreamcoat” and “Matilda the Musical,” Paul-Jordan Jansen makes a loutish William Blore. A former policeman, accused of taking bribes in exchange for falsifying evidence, Mr. Jansen is terrific as a pushy individual who lives for the next meal and the control he can wield over everyone around him.
David Kortemeier, who may be remembered for his hilarious portrayal of King Arthur in Drury Lane’s “Spamalot,” makes an agitated, continually apprehensive Dr. Armstrong. Now a tea-totaler, his character has given up alcohol after killing a patient on the operating table. He now, ironically, specializes in nervous disorders. Another veteran actor, with a long, distinguished resume, Bruce A. Young delightfully, and sympathetically, portrays retired WWI officer, General Mackenzie. He’s a wounded, somewhat senile military man, who harbors no guilt over sending one of his young officers, his wife’s lover, on a mission guaranteed to result in certain death. Young Zachary Keller, who last trod the boards in Oakbrook as Friedrich, in their excellent production of “The Sound of Music,” returns as the amoral aristocratic playboy, Anthony Marston. With an eye for lovely women, like Miss Claythorne, and a passion for fast-driving cars, Marston feels no guilt for having run over two children in the past. Keller is another actor we’d like to see returning to the Drury Lane stage.
Jennifer Engstrom must be who Agatha Christie envisioned when she wrote the character of Ethel Rogers. Ms. Engstrom is acid-tongued, and a “pale, ghost-like woman who walks in fear.” Sadly, her time on stage is brief. Paul Tavianini, who plays Thomas Rogers, is another Drury Lane first-timer, although his resume boasts stage and television credits from all over the nation. His character seems far more kindly than the Rogers that Agatha Christie created in her novel, but as a man devoted to his position as butler and being the even-keeled head of a household, Mr. Tavianini is spot-on. And, in a cameo role, newcomer Casey Hoekstra is properly gruff and gritty as boat captain, Fred Narracott.
In addition to Jessica Pabst’s gorgeous period costumes and Claire Moores’ period perfect hair and wig designs, the splendid, sumptuously elegant Art Deco scenic design, by Andrew Boyce, creates a feast for the eyes in this production. Highlighted by Driscoll Otto’s stunning lighting and projections (notice his exquisite setting sun and the fog that rolls in), along with Ray Nardelli’s moody sound design, that subconsciously signals when another murder may take place, this production is visually awesome.
Jessica Fisch has directed a thrilling, masterfully mysterious and macabre puzzle box production of Agatha Christie’s bestselling thriller. A visual and dramatic masterpiece, filled with suspense and a few surprises, this majestically acted and executed melodrama promises a few laughs and some well-earned shivers for a Summer evening’s entertainment.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 12-September 1 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the theatre box office, by calling 630-530-0111 or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.