By Jan Sjostrom
Prepare to be entertained when you board Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The play, which was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig from Christie’s classic 1934 novel, is taking audiences on an action-packed ride at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through Nov. 12.
Those familiar with the novel won’t be disappointed. Those who aren’t might have even more fun as they won’t know what’s coming as master detective Hercule Poirot solves what might be the most challenging case of his career.
The imaginative production unites sets, sound, lights and projections to create the elegant locked-room world of the snowbound train in 1934, where a child murderer is found dead with eight stab wounds. One of the passengers must be guilty—but all have alibis.
The production originated at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota under the direction of Peter Amster, who also steers it at the Maltz. Amster keeps the tension wired, but balances it with humor, delivered with unselfconscious ease and superb comic timing by an excellent cast.
The train’s luxurious compartments and the corridor that connects them smoothly spin into place on Paul Tate Depoo III’s rotating set.
The set is topped by a screen on which Greg Emetaz’s projections enlarge the play’s world. A lurid black and white clip of the abduction that ends with the murder of the child Daisy sets the story in motion. Period-looking projections of the train puffing through the landscape and flickering lights bring the outdoors tangibly to life.
Projections also energize the ritual climactic scene when Poirot assembles the passengers to reveal his solution to the crime by replaying snippets of the scenes in which the clues appeared as the actors repeat the lines.
Mathew Parker’s sound design and Gregg Coffin’s score evoke vintage silver-screen thrillers and feel perfectly at home in Poirot’s world. Tracy Dorman’s costumes match the stylish mood and faithfully represent the period.
The large cast is headed by Andrew Sellon’s Poirot, who is suitably shrewd and smart. But a bit more of the detective’s vanity and fastidiousness would have made for a richer and more amusing portrayal.
All the performers mastered the larger-than-life demands of the characters. Among the standout portrayals are Laura Turnbull’s chatty and overbearing Helen Hubbard, Lucy Lavely’s hysterically religious Gretta Olsson, Jeanne Bennett’s imperious Princess Dragomiroff, Mallory Newbrough’s fetching Mary Debenham and Suzanne Ankrum’s poised Countess Andrenyi.
David Breitbarth as Monsieur Bouc was a fine foil to Poirot, as the train company official spouted erroneous conclusions and fretted about the crime’s impact on the company’s reputation.
Other well-done supporting roles include Rayner Gabriel’s nervous secretary Hector MacQueen and Le Shawn Banks’ dignified conductor Michel and pompous head waiter.
In a minor hitch, Jordan Sobel’s appearance and assertive manner were too similar to clearly distinguish the characters of the victim Ratchett and Col. Arbuthnot in the play’s early scenes.
Mystery fans and anyone else who enjoys a good story should book a ticket on the Orient Express. No travel insurance required.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express plays through Nov. 12 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. The show runs for one hour and 50 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday. For tickets call (561) 575-2223 or visit jupitertheatre.org.