Friday, October 13, 2017

Cloverdale Playhouse: "And Then There Were None"

Disclosure: The reviewer is a member of the Board of Directors of The Cloverdale Playhouse.

A sold-out opening night at The Cloverdale Playhouse's production of Agatha Christie's superbly crafted murder-mystery And Then There Were None was greeted with a series of well-earned gasps of shock at the several murders, peals of spontaneous laughter at the character driven outrageous behavior and sophisticated bon mots of the actors, and a rapturous standing ovation.

Staged on the Playhouse's newly hired Technical Director Scott Grinstead's finely detailed set -- the living room of an upscale island home off the coast of Devon, England -- director Mike Winkelman's exceptional ensemble seemed to relish every eccentricity in their roles while remaining true to the melodramatic conventions of the genre...a slippery slope that deftly avoids excesses that might otherwise have reduced it to mere camp. This is a group whose comic timing, abounding energy, physical and verbal dexterity kept the audience enthralled for two hours and twenty minutes of non-stop enjoyment. Take your pick: Marcus Clement, Christopher Crockett, Rachael Dotson, Jacob Holmberg, Julie Janson, Bo Jinright, Tom Lawson, Bill Nowell, Tate Pollock, Alex Rikerd, or Adam Shephard will capture your attention, or be a prime suspect, and leave a lasting impression.

With book sales second only to the Bible and Shakespeare, according to several sources, Dame Agatha Christie's novels, short stories, and plays have become legendary -- famous detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple come from her pen, and her play The Mousetrap has been running in London since 1952; her novel And Then There Were None (1939) is accounted as the world's best-selling mystery novel of all time.

She wrote the stage version in 1943. The production at the Cloverdale Playhouse is an updated 2005 adaptation by Kevin Elyot based mostly on the novel. It is a familiar who dunnit: ten strangers have been invited to Soldier's Island by the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Owen; at their first gathering, a recorded voice accuses each of them of murder, promising punishment; though each guest denies or excuses their past actions, they are bumped off one-by-one, with a nursery rhyme "Ten Little Soldiers" (aka "Ten Little Indians") giving clues to the manner of their demises as the ten soldiers lined up on the mantelpiece mysteriously disappear with each death. They are deliberately cut off from the mainland, there is no telephone, and -- oh yes -- there is a storm.

Much of the enjoyment of an enterprise such as And Then There Were None is in trying to figure out which one of the guests is the murderer; but with every turn of events, and sufficient red herrings to distract our attention, unexpected results and lots of surprises are in store. Not everything is what it seems. -- There are also two alternative endings in this production, played on even and odd dates, so the ending you see might be different from someone else's.

Under Mr. Winkelman's strong directorial hand, the mix of humor and suspense, guilt and suspicion of others' guilt [we learn of each character's past in Christie's judiciously piecemeal exposition], and of some serious attention to the very human impulse of self-preservation, all feels natural. Danny Davidson-Cline's character driven costumes, and James Treadway's evocative lighting and soundscape, add dimension to the mis-en-scene.

The Cloverdale Playhouse company have breathed new life into a well-established classic. It is worth a visit.