Home Uncategorized Theatre Three’s Murder On The Orient Express Is a Spine-tingling Whodunit

Theatre Three’s Murder On The Orient Express Is a Spine-tingling Whodunit

by Mike Cutino
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Barbara Anne Kirshner

Photos by Steve Ayle/showbizshots.com

The curtains part revealing a long screen projecting rails on a train track. There is a loud whistle blow and the audience is immediately immersed in the Orient Express running at Theatre Three through May 4th.

English mystery writer, Agatha Christie, wrote Murder on the Orient Express featuring her beloved Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot, in 1934. It is important to note there is an underlying plot taken from the headlines of the day, the abduction and ransom of the Charles Lindbergh baby. In this real life crime, Lindberg paid the ransom but the baby was never returned. To find out how this ties into Christie’s tale, you must see Theatre Three’s well-crafted production.

The play adaptation came about when the estate of Agatha Christie requested that two-time Tony Award winning playwright, Ken Ludwig, adapt her novel for the stage. In 2017, the play premiered at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

That same year the film version, co-produced, directed and starred Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, opened to positive reviews.

As the play begins, we meet Poirot (Jeffrey Sanzel), at a hotel in Istanbul where he receives a telegram from Scotland Yard imploring him to return immediately to London. But it seems the train is fully booked, not allowing him to secure a first-class compartment. Luckily, Poirot bumps into his friend, Monsieur Bouc (Michael Limone), director of the train operations who arranges for a second-class berth.

A flat unravels revealing the side of the train and we are off with Poirot on the grand Orient Express termed “Poetry on wheels” by Bouc.

As in all Agatha Christie plays, there is a vast cast of characters who will soon assume the roles of red herrings when the intrigue begins. There’s the head waiter (Richard O’Sullivan), English Colonel Arbuthnot (David DiMarzo), English governess Mary Debenham (Cassidy Rose O’Brien), American widow Helen Hubbard (Linda May), American businessman Samuel Ratchett (Angelo DiBiase), personal assistant to Samuel Ratchett Hector MacQueen (Steven Uihlein), French conductor Michel (Zach Johnson), Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Sheila Sheffield), Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson (Samantha Fierro) and Hungarian Countess Andrenyi (Michelle LaBozzetta).

Jeffrey Sanzel as Hercule Poirot

The tension builds around Samuel Ratchett who has received death threats and asks Poirot to protect him. However, Poirot refuses the employment saying, “Your case doesn’t interest me.”

The train has now hit a heavy snowstorm and just past midnight a snowdrift halts the Orient Express in its tracks. Bouc announces to the passengers, “We are stuck until they come to get us out.” By morning, Ratchett is discovered dead in his berth, stabbed eight times in the chest and curiously his door is locked from the inside. Monsieur Bouc, more distressed about the negative publicity this will bring to the train than about the victim, Samuel Ratchett, begs Poirot to solve the case. The other passengers, upon learning of the murder, are anxious, feeling trapped in the snow with a killer on the loose.

What happens now?

Who will be next to die?

Everyone is on edge counting on Poirot to fit all the pieces of this perplexing puzzle in place and solve the crime.

Director, Christine Boehm, has done a brilliant job assembling a cast that sparkles and is believable in their roles as they help to build the suspense. A few stand out performances must be noted starting with Jeff Sanzel who is sheer perfection in the role of the world-renowned moustache clad Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. His cool demeanor and that mischievous twinkle in his eye even as he sifts through so much planted evidence brings us to the edge of our seats.

Linda May as Helen Hubbard

Linda May appears to be having the time of her life as the loud-mouthed quintessential ugly American, Helen Hubbard. Her high-pitched nasal voice, 1930’s expressions and flawless comic timing gives respites from all this tension. Hubbard is a widow but mourning doesn’t seem to be in her DNA as she enjoys a good flirtation. A funny bit is when she tells Monsieur Bouc, “You remind me of one of my husbands.” He asks, “Which one?” She bubbles, “The next one.”

Michael Limone as Monsieur Bouc is at times nervous, other times insistent, and always deeply concerned about what happens on his train. Limone portrays all the emotions giving a well-rounded performance. We believe in his friendship with Poirot and his faith that the detective will solve the murder. In the end, he must make a decision that will change many lives and we are left to question if he made the right one.

As the victim, Samuel Ratchett, Angelo DiBiase is so brash that it is easy to understand why Poirot doesn’t want to take on his case. His gruff exterior is in full view especially when he comes on to Countess Andrenyi (Michelle LaBozzetta). The countess, who as it happens is also a medical doctor, is played with the class and style befitting her station. . Nothing throws her, not even having to inspect a dead body.

All the technical aspects in this production are first rate. Randall Parsons, who has crafted some amazing sets for Theatre Three has outdone himself this time. It has everything including a well-placed screen that projects different scenes as needed from the chic ceiling of the luxury Istanbul hotel in the beginning to the railroad tracks to showing movement of the train as it passes snow-capped evergreens and mountains in the distance. This theatre generally does not use a curtain, however in this show the use of one greatly aids the many set changes from the dining car to individual sleep compartments and back again. Sound effects including gun shots are essential in a Christie murder mystery and Tim Haggerty makes them loud and crisp. Stacy Boggs’ lighting helps move the action from scene to scene as well as providing mood changes. 

This is a period piece show and Ronald Green III delivers costumes of the 1930’s keeping in mind colors that match the characters’ personalities. His wigs, shoulder length hair with finger waves, give the flavor of the era. Poirot is described as a man who takes utmost concern in his appearance and here he looks appropriately distinguished whether in classic three piece suit or smoking jacket.

Theatre Three pulls out all the stops to offer a visually gorgeous and spine-tingling Murder On The Orient Express

Now playing through May 4th.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson. 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com