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Great Lakes Theater puts old spin on murder mystery

One of the themes of Great Lakes Theater is “reinventing the classics.” Its current production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” gives the play a retro spin, proving that “everything that’s old is new again.”

First a novel, then turned into multiple movies and a stage play, “And Then There Were None” has endured since the late 1930s, when it first appeared. Ten people have been invited by an unseen millionaire to an eccentric house built on the cliffs of an island off the coast of England. Two are servants hired to meet the needs of the other eight guests. They soon discover that the invitation’s intent is sinister and ultimately deadly. A prerecorded message from their “host” informs the group that each of them is accused of a murder that either never came to trial or unjustly resulted in an acquittal.

Ten statues on the mantle soon come to represent the 10 guests, and a framed nursery rhyme tells about the untimely and violent demise of each of the “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” The first one “choked his little self,” and soon, one of the guests dies of poisoning. Throughout the play’s three acts, each of the guests’ alleged crimes is divulged and, one by one, they die in the manner prescribed by the rhyme.

What one first notices in the Great Lakes production is the lush set. Part Art Deco, part designer fantasy, Russell Metheny’s set is huge and fascinating. Leather furniture sits on Persian-inspired rugs, and tall windows lead to a balcony where the current meteorological conditions are seen in the sky.

Filling the room are 10 larger-than-life personalities. Director Charles Fee uses a wide brush to paint the characters, each of whom bellows as if the volume is needed to fill the large living room.  Maggie Kettering and M.A. Taylor are the grumpy servants working in a house unfamiliar to them. Dougfred Miller is Armstrong is an apparent alcoholic − an unsettling trait in a doctor. Laura Pertotta is Emily Brent, a woman with deep religious convictions who sees the deaths of her fellow guests as justice from an angry God. Laura Berg is efficient Vera, hired as a secretary, but given to unexpected fits of hysteria. Tom Ford is a retired judge, and David Anthony Smith a police officer apparently without a gun. Nick Steen is a soldier with a dark past, Jonathan Dyrud a rich and reckless playboy and Aled Davies a general who seems to carry a lot of guilt.

Although the story is almost 80 years old, “And Then There Were None” still entertains. The audience at the performance I attended gasped at each of the murders, despite the fact that each is “foretold.” The manner of death is clever and the victim almost always a surprise. Speaking of surprises, those familiar with the movie versions of this classic will get to experience a new ending from the one they are familiar with. It is powerful, quite dark, and really makes more sense than what we have seen in the past. A bit under three hours, “And Then There Were None” remains rich in the murder mystery tradition that was defined by Agatha Christie. It runs through March 20 at the Hanna Theatre.

And Then There Were None By Agatha Christie Directed by Charles Fee Great Lakes Theater Photo by Roger Mastroianni

 

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