Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Agatha Christie loses her way at Folsom’s Stage Nine

l to r: Nicholas Palleschi, Simon Hunt, Delaney Eldridge
photo: Allen Schmeltz Productions

A generation ago Life Magazine had this to say about the popular Batman series on TV: “It’s so bad that it’s good. If it were better it would be terrible.” The same could be said of the adaptation of the play “And Then There Were None,” based on Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel. Like the Batman series it operates on two levels: as a thriller with murder lurking everywhere and as a parody of itself.

The story follows a Christie formula, though the script is more klutzy than the one for “The Mousetrap,” which has been running continuously since 1952 on the London stage and which appeared at Folsom’s Stage Nine in 2007. We have a crowd of elegant suspects trapped in luxurious surroundings with a killer in their midst. The result is something like a board game with live actors as chess pieces. In fact “And Then There Were None” seems to be more popular now as a game than in any other form.

Based on a nursery rhyme, the 1939 novel and its original play adaptation were titled “Ten Little Niggers,” but for obvious reasons that had to be changed. So it became “Ten Little Indians,” which also required remediation. So now we have ten little soldiers, each dying in turn by colorful means. This too may require change as we struggle to support our troops.

The setting is a fictional Soldier Island off the Devon coast of England. Eight guests and two servants have been lured to a mansion by a mysterious UN Owen, where a gramophone record tells them that each is guilty of a murder and all will die before they can be rescued. They discover ten figurines on a mantel, the number reduced as one by one the characters are bumped off through increasingly gruesome means.

Last year’s Chautauqua production, directed by Paul Fearn, caught on to the tongue-in-cheek ironies, inspiring audiences to laugh in the right places as the veddy veddy British characters, with spot-on accents, conveyed the spirit of the era’s conventions, guests helping themselves to poisoned whiskey while dining on biscuits and tinned tongue. But the seasoned Maggie Adair Upton, as director, somehow decided to play the show straight. After intermission the audience was smaller than it had been before.

There are the predictable romantic leads: the high-class secretary, Vera Claythorne (Delaney Eldridge) and the dashing but stuffy Captain Philip Lombard (Nicholas Palleschi). They become our romantic leads, almost as an afterthought.

Others condemned by the mysterious Owen include Sir Lawrence Walgrave (Jon Beaver), a hanging judge; the excitable General MacKenzie (Paul Greisen); William Blore (Mike Jimena), a detective masquerading as somebody named Davis; the sly Anthony Marston (Eric Rhea); the super-pious and prudish old maid, Emily Brent (Connie Mockenhaupt); the alcohol-avoidant surgeon, Dr. Armstrong (Simon Hunt); and the elegant servant Rogers (Frank Hickox) and his wife (Cathy Rasmussen).

Considering the interpretation, the energetic cast gives the play its all. Hunt, by the way, is a genuine Londoner, though the others pretty much get away with the upper-U accents. It’s a shame though, that the consistently top-notch Stage 9/Garbeau’s Theatre, which swept this year’s Elly awards, could go so far astray with this production.

“And Then There Were None” runs through November 8 at Stage Nine Theatre, 717 Sutter Street in Historic Folsom. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $22 general, $20 for seniors and SARTA, $15 for children. For reservations, call (916) 353-1001. See also http://www.stageninefolsom.com/.


Anonymous said...

i would first like to say that i do not like the way you completely ruined the ending of the play for me. it is one thing to review something, but to completely just give a lot away is another. second, to go on bashing a theater by saying "the audience was smaller than before," is rude. did it ever occur to you people might have moved seats? overall, i think you need to see the play again and do a proper review and give it the chance it deserves or just quit your job.

B said...

I enjoyed your review, it was poignant and direct. TO the last poster: get off your high horse! People moving seats would not make the audience any samller, and there is nothing wrong with reviewing a play negatively. Clearly you did not see the play, or are realted to someone in the production. Why don't you write your own review...