Masterful Acting and Direction Brings New Life to Classic Poirot Mystery

by Amber Nore

Murder on the Orient Express, Community Players, Thursday February 9, 2023, Final Dress Rehearsal 

Murder on the Orient Express is a stage adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel written and adapted by Ken Ludwig. It premiered in 2017 at the McCarter Center in New Jersey. Community theaters across the country were looking forward to including this new production in their upcoming seasons as soon as it became available. As the year 2020 brought the closure of theatres nationwide, we had to wait for the show to go on. And here it is! We are fortunate to have a production opening this weekend at Beatrice Community Players.

Our story begins with a flashback to the kidnapping of a young girl named Daisy Armstrong. Fast forward four years later, and  Detective Hercule Poirot comes onstage to introduce himself. He sits down to dine at a fancy hotel in Istanbul. Catching up with his old friend Bouc, who owns the Orient Express, we discover that the famed detective reveals that he was planning to take a long overdue vacation but he must return to London at the call of Scotland Yard.  Monsieur Bouc insists on arranging Poirot’s transport on the Orient express. Poirot expresses dismay that the first class cabin is entirely full. His friend offers him cabin number seven, which is always set aside for reserve, but we learn from Michele the conductor that even cabin seven has been booked. Being a good friend, Bouc offers Poirot his personal quarters, agreeing to sleep in the coach cabin. Poirot accepts, and we watch as the colorful cast of characters begins to board the train. 

Orient Express First Class includes:  Helen Hubbard ( a wealthy widow), the Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff  accompanied by her Swedish companion Greta Ohlsson. Mary Debenham, a Governess from England,  An American tycoon named Samuel Ratchett and his assistant Hector MacQueen. The beautiful Hungarian Countess Andrenyi and a Scottish Colonel Arbuthnot.

We discover that Mr. Ratchett has been receiving death threats. Given his crass demeanor and odd bravado, it’s easy to imagine why. He approaches Detective Poirot to ask for his assistance. Poirot declines, as he is on vacation and says he only accepts cases that interest him, which this does not.

The snow falls heavily and the train becomes stuck on the mountain. While they are snowed in, a murder occurs in the victim’s locked cabin, The Yogoslavian police are unable to come due to the weather. Monsieur Bouc begs his dear friend Poirot to solve the case and save the reputation of his train. Poirot accepts the request.  With the help of the Hungarian countess, who had been trained as a medical doctor, he examines the body. Poirot carefully gathers clues and  begins to question all of the passengers in first class. Everyone is a suspect. And no scenario is left unconsidered. 

As Poirot gets closer and closer to solving the case, and how it is tied to little Daisy Armstrong, we begin to get more and more suspicious of everyone on board. Who is telling the truth? 

Scott Clark delivers an exceptional performance as the famous Hercule Poirot. Mr. Clark has clearly studied the beloved Detective’s mannerisms, image, and history. Gentile, funny and very savvy, Clarke’s Poirot is the standout of the show.

Merle Jobman does a very nice job as Monsieur Bouc.

Morgan Fox as Mary Debenham is soft spoken and beautiful. She is a gentle presence, much like you would assume a governess to be.

Mark Geist takes on the challenge of a double character casting choice, here as Colonel Arbuthnot and Samuel Ratchett. Each character had a defined accent, mannerism and look. Geist did an excellent job of portraying each character. This is what acting is about, isn’t it? Bravo!

Vicki Cain is another double character casting, as she plays both Michele the Conductor and the Head Waiter. Again, each character has a distinct accent and look. She did a great job staying in character and her physical comedy was a nice touch to each scene.

Zoe Tien as Helen Hubbard is a young actress portraying a character that is significantly older, and she does so with aplomb. Tien delivers some real zingers and is very funny. Her Minnesota accent is spot on. 

Ashley Hothan as Greta Ohlsson was charming and wonderful. She projected well, and I enjoyed watching her reactions to the unfolding drama. Hothan is a bright light on the stage.

Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, played by Diane Kahnk, had a terrific Russian accent and a sophisticated presence. She was very much the regal royal.

Jenny Sutphin showed grace and intelligence as the mysterious Countess Andreyni. Sutphin was perfectly cast.

Dylan Warren as Hector MacQueen delivered a very good performance.

Rachele Stoops has given a masterful direction of Murder on the Orient Express. She has clearly put her heart into the retelling of this classic story and it shows through the strong cast performances and expert staging. Everyone is having a great time on stage and it really drew the audience into the fun (and the  mayhem). I enjoyed the comedy of this adaptation, which was added by the author to quicken the pace of the story. It works very well and will certainly bring new audiences to the classic tale.

It takes an entire team to bring a show to life, and the Production Team of Murder on the Orient Express did a fantastic job!  Stage Manager Beth Anne Veissman, Assistant Stage Manager Sterling Johnson, Props by Mary Beth Tuttle, Sterling Johnson and Lindsay Armstrong, Scenic and Light Design by Jamie Ulmer, Set Construction by Mason Gustafson, Callan Williams and Kurt Conradt, Scene Painting by Tyler Rinne and Lindsay Armstrong, Costume Design by Ashley Hothan, Morgan Fox and Diane Kahnk, Lights and Sounds by Jamie Ulmer, Brandon Clark, Doug Stokebrand and Brielle Toland, Show Logo by Tyler Rinne. I gasped when the train was revealed, as it was so beautiful on stage! The lighting and sound and animated elements contributed beautifully to the mystery and suspicion created by the actors. Lighting and sound were well designed and executed. Each character was represented well by their costume, hair, makeup and props.

Even if, like me, you have read the classic story and know how it ends, you will absolutely be mesmerized by it all over again.  If the story is new to you….be prepared to see one of the best mysteries ever written. If you think you know whodunnit….think again!

Don’t get stuck in the snow! Book your ticket on the Orient Express today.

Shoutout to Jamie Ulmer, who wraps up his time at Community Players with this show. Thank you for helping to make theatre in our area that much better – we know that you will do the same at your next gig in Lawrence!

If you go: Murder on the Orient Express runs February 10th-19th. Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. There is one 10 minute intermission and concessions are available for purchase. Tickets are available online at www.https://www.beatricecommunityplayers.com Please visit the website for further information and a list of upcoming events. Follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for updates!

Amber C. Nore has performed locally with Angels Theatre Company, Pinewood Bowl and Lincoln Community Playhouse, TADA Theatre  and nationally with Spokane Repertory Theatre and Rogue Players. She sings in the band Andy Pappas with Jukebox Gyro, the debut album “Inside Voices” is available on iTunes and Spotify. Her favorite role has been Stage Mom to her daughter, Chloe. Amber is the Community Relations Manager for Mosaic in Southeast Nebraska. She lives with her cat in an art gallery in the Haymarket and loves to support local businesses/music/arts/events with her partner, Patrick.

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