Murder, mayhem and memorable characters make Dame Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” arguably the most popular whodunit among the dozens of detective stories she wrote over her long, prolific career.
Since its 1934 publication, it has been adapted for radio, TV, film and even a computer game. This month, the Ogunquit Playhouse joins a handful of other American theatres, including Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre and Connecticut’s Hartford Stage Company, in mounting playwright Ken Ludwig’s delightfully droll stage adaptation of the classic mystery.
It’s a delicious treat for audiences who expect Broadway caliber entertainment here. And it’s a crowning achievement for the Playhouse’s executive artistic director, Brad Kenney, who went back to the venue’s historic roots as a “playhouse” when he decided to make “Murder” the first play to be staged here in a dozen years.
Christie, the grand dame of detective tales and undisputed queen of crime, thrilled readers with her exotic locales, intriguing plots and captivating characters — and “Murder” has them all in spades.The story is set in 1934 on the opulent Orient Express train — the lavish overnight carrier that transports the wealthy from Istanbul across Europe to Calais in total luxury. A murder occurs on board the train late one night when all are — or should be — asleep. And, alas, the train is stranded by an avalanche in the remote mountains of Yugoslavia.
An interesting cast of characters — all played to perfection by the superb cast — is on board and all are suspects, aside from Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, known for his distinct mustache and ability to figure out “whodunit.”
Played to sly, obsessive-compulsive aplomb by the wily Steven Rattazzi, he sets the tone, narrates the show and ultimately solves the crime.
The roster also includes Monsieur Bouc, Poirot’s pal and the train company’s on-board manager, played by a high-strung and hysterical Christopher Gurr, sporting a realistic mane of gray hair.
The delightful Anita Gillette brings Princess Dragomiroff, the exiled Russian royal to life, while Anna Tempte is convincing as her assistant, Greta Ohlsson, an anxious, religious African missionary, or so she claims.
The best comic lines and scenes go to the fabulous Ruth Gottschall, playing thrice-married Helen Hubbard. The scene in which the Carol Burnett clone dances the Charleston is worth the price of admission. Andrew Dits does a fine job in the dual roles of Col. Arbuthnot and Samuel Ratchett, the bad guy who meets his maker on the Orient Express. And Kate Loprest is wonderful as Countess Andrenyi, beautiful, smart and a doctor, no less.
Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design, featuring a system of projections on a moving curtain, is the production’s other star attraction, providing a realistic resemblance to a moving train.
So whodunit? I’ll never tell.
Don’t miss “Murder on the Orient Express” at Ogunquit Playhouse. It’s your ticket to a thrilling escape — and one that leaves you wondering whodunit to the tantalizing conclusion — on a summer afternoon or evening in coastal Maine.
Call 207-646-5511 or visit www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org for tickets.