Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
And Then There Were None
On a summer evening in August, ten guests arrive at a house on Soldier Island, off the coast of Devon, England. The guests don't know each other and they don't know the host. Why were they invited? What is their relationship with the host? The host accuses each guest of at least one murder. The guests quickly realize the purpose of this weekend's festivities is revenge. The story involves ten little figures on the mantel. One at a time, someone breaks a figure and then someone is murdered. Each figure is matched to a line in a poem, which is found near the ten figures. Similar to a classic Greek play, few of the murders take place on stage. The intensity of the story picks up when the characters realize the murderer is in the room with them. They're on an island, the delivery boat will not come by until the next morning, and the telephone doesn't work. Could things get much worse?
The cast is top shelf. Unfortunately, the characters played by some good actors are killed before getting a chance to show their skills. But four characters stuck around long enough for actors to have at least one big scene and display some great talent. I was especially taken by the work of Laura Welsh Berg, Tom Ford, Laura Perrotta, and Nick Steen. I'm familiar with the fine work of these actors, and this production permits them to display one more facet of their considerable talents.
Christie wrote the play in 1945 and set the story in 1940. However, the setting for this production seems to be moved to the present time. There are no references to World War II. The novel on which the play is based was published in 1939. That ending (referred to as the 1939 ending) is different than the 1943 ending (which is based on the original script for the play). This production uses the 1939 ending. Both endings begin their unraveling with Lombard's line to Vera: "Youyoung, lovely, and quite, quite mad."
Russell Metheny (set designer) has created a breathtaking set, which is big, bold, and perfect for this mystery. Rick Martin (lighting designer) has a particular challenge at the start of the third at. The lights have gone off, and the characters carry flashlights to find their way in a house they think contains at least one murderer. Martin makes this difficult scene work for the audience.
Director Charles Fee helps each actor become distinct. He also keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. If the audience had an opportunity to think about how lightweight the plot is, they would laugh and the production would collapse on itself.
Agatha Christie is still considered one of the best mystery writers to work in the English language. Notice how carefully she crafts the plot and how she measures out each death to keep the audience involved. She tells the story of murders without attempting to scare the audience. Instead, she creates an exciting puzzle.
This production is a great example of what happens when you combine good writing, quality directing, and excellent acting by the Great Lakes Theater company. The admirable cast slowly lets each character's tensions boil to the surface and bubbles the threat of murder until the cast and audience seem trapped together on Soldier Island.
This production of And Then There Were None has the charm of the witty black-and-white movies from the early 1940s.
Great Lakes Theater's And Then There Were None, through March 20, 2016, in The Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit GreatLakesTheater.org/.
Playwright: Agatha Christie