Everyone loves a good mystery, so I was not surprised to find the parking lot full at the Holly Springs Cultural Center on a chilly Thursday night. Opening night of Stageworks Theatre’s second show of its inaugural season, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, played to an almost-packed house and did not disappoint.
The show begins with an ominous voice reading out the chilling nursery rhyme that defines the show, about “Ten Little Soldiers,” all of whom meet untimely ends. The lights come up on an upscale house on an isolated British island, circa 1943. The set design evokes the era well, with the lavish furniture, enormous windows, and well-stocked liquor bar appropriate for a well-appointed summer getaway on its own private island. Jason Christ and Karen Morgan Williams play a mother-and-son team of a recently hired servant and cook, who have very little time before a long list of illustrious guests begin to show up.
First to arrive are Phillip Lombard (an appropriately dashing Michael Parker) and his love interest, Vera Claythorne (the effervescent Noelle Barnard Azarelo), secretary to the host of this gathering, a mysteriously absent Mr. Owens. Next to appear are two older gentlemen, General McKenzie (played with authentic Scottish civility by Craig Ashby) and Sir Lawrence Wargrave (a languid Gus Allen).
Introductions abound as the foppish Anthony Marston (Christopher McBennett) and a bombastic gentleman who claims to be from South Africa but is later revealed as barely-undercover police officer William Blore (gregarious Doug Simpson) join the stage. Rounding out the cast of characters is sanctimonious Emily Brent (a fantastically pompous Laura Arwood) and Dr. Armstrong (the stylishly cosmopolitan Carla Reck).
The guests are no sooner gathered in the main parlor than the ominous voice from the top of the show returns. Ostensibly the voice of Mr. Owen, it welcomes each guest by ominously reciting the past crimes of each person.
Each guest is shocked and horrified. Even though many admit the accusations have grounds, they are quick to assert their various exonerations. A quick search reveals the source of the disembodied voice: a record on the gramophone. Mr. Owens is nowhere to be found. In fact, it comes out that no one has ever met Mr. Owens.
The servants and secretary were hired through a remote service, and everyone else was invited via post mail. Confusion abounds as to the point of this unlikely gathering, when a dramatic onstage death makes it clear that none of them are meant to leave the place alive.
Act 2 ramps up the action as the body count climbs. Trapped on the island by circumstance and bad weather, the invitees quickly turn on each other. Each death follows the frame of the nursery rhyme in execution, but no one knows who will be the next to fall, or who is committing the heinous murders.
Mounting tensions affect each character differently. While Carla Reck’s frantically nervous Dr. Armstong is so convincing as to be unsettling, it’s Noelle Azarelo’s emotional breakdown that highlights the act and is a welcomed amusement from the relentless tension. Indeed, Azarelo’s emotional range drives much of the rest of the play.
Mia Peters’ direction is clever enough to keep each character moving, making it harder to follow potential clues, as well as providing a few red herrings. (For example, Laura Arwood’s narcoleptic knitting had me wondering if her character hadn’t died already half a dozen times.)
As suspicions deepen, the secrets of many characters are revealed. In true Agatha Christie fashion, the show will keep you guessing right up until the end … and even then, the play has one final twist that even a seasoned theatergoer would never suspect.
Overall, the play was engaging, although it could benefit well from some faster pacing and a shorter runtime. Transitions between scenes seemed to get longer as the night went on and worked a bit against sustaining the tension needed to drive the play.
The lighting design suited the needs of the show, utilizing electric candelabras to enhance the darkness as needed. Hair and costuming were spot-on period, right down to the back-seamed stockings and clan-specific neck tartan.
The cast in general could have more fun with the audience, milking their reactions and relax a bit into their roles, something that is sure to develop as opening-night jitters wear off. With that said, the audience was on its feet by the final bows, so there’s no doubt that the performance was a success.
As Stagework Theatre continues to find its footing as a fledgling community-theater troupe, it does well by harnessing fresh talent to work along with seasoned veterans, with a very pleasing result. Mia Peters’ first time at the helm has produced an entertaining staging of a classic, with an unexpected finale that even Ms. Christie would have approved of.
With only a few shows and tickets sold out for the rest of the run, this show will be another feather in the Stageworks’ cap that is sure to make Holly Springs and the theater community proud.
Stageworks Theatre presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, 300 W Ballentine St, Holly Springs, North Carolina 27540.
TICKETS: These shows are completely SOLD OUT.
BOX OFFICE: 919-567-4000 or https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/3443.
INFORMATION: 919-567-4000 or StageworksTheatreNC@gmail.com.
And Then There Were None (1939 mystery novel): http://www.agathachristie.com/christies-work/stories/and-then-there-were-none/193 (official web page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_Then_There_Were_None (Wikipedia).
And Then There Were None, a.k.a. Ten Little Indians (1944 Broadway mystery): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/914/and-then-there-were-none (Samuel French, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/ten-little-indians-8558 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_Then_There_Were_None_%28play%29/a> (Wikipedia). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Agatha Christie (English crime novelist and playwright, 1890-1976): http://www.agathachristie.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/agatha-christie-3916 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002005/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie (Wikipedia).
Mia Peters (director): https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.m.peters.7 (Facebook page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.