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"Murder on the Orient Express," show #823

My first introduction to Agatha Christie’s much-praised story, Murder on the Orient Express, was this past Sunday’s viewing at Sierra Repertory Theatre. Their production of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation is a sterling whodunit drama consisting of strong dialects, distinct characters, and a technical design that pleases for the duration of the wild train ride!

For those who may not know, Hercule Poirot is drawn out of retirement on the Orient Express when a murder occurs and chaos ensues. It is up to Poirot to figure out who committed the crime, and quick! Without any spoilers, Jerry Lee’s direction is excellent in letting the performers take ownership of their roles, and driving the walk-and-talk explanations to a level of tension which draws the audience in rather than making us glaze over from exposition and explanation.

(Courtney Glass (Countess Andrenyi) and Frederic Heringes (Poirot); Photo credit: Final Cut Media)

Frederic Heringes delivers a charming, motivated Poirot, complete with a cadence that is becoming of an investigator, leading this appropriately talky play well. Carrying the burden of dialects are a slew of characters who don them with precise execution, thanks in large part to dialect coach, Kimily Conkle. Peter S. Hadres’ French-laden Monsier Bouc, owner of the Orient Express, balances a nice level of French charm with that of an anxious businessman hoping his bottom line isn’t ruined by the murder. Gabrielle Smith is wonderful as Mary Debenham, one of the accused who is also involved in a scandalous (wink wink) affair opposite Charles Pasternak’s commanding Col. Arbuthnot. Pasternak does double-duty as the Scottish-bred colonel, being a domineering protector/passionate lover towards Mary and the murdered-in-focus, Samuel Ratchett.

(Gabrielle Smith (Mary) and Charles Pasternak (pictured as Samuel); Photo credit: Final Cut Media)

Melinda Parrett delivers a scene-stealing, much-laughs-garnering performance as Helen Hubbard, the Midwest source of hospitality and hilarious snark. Parrett plays comically and dramatically well off her co-stars, especially Laurie Strawn’s snooty-yet-respectable Princess Dragomiroff. Rounding out the cast is a comically anxious performance by Henry J. Flores as Hector MacQueen, a stunningly duplicitous performance by Courtney Glass as Hungarian royalty, Countess Andrenyi, and a great Kevin Heath as the sly-but-smart Michel the Conductor. Dianne Manaster does well as purely holy Greta Ohlsson, and her humble chemistry opposite Strawn’s assertive Princess is a delightful partnership to see develop.

(Melinda Parrett (Helen) and Peter S. Hadres (Monsier Bouc); Photo credit: Final Cut Media)

Sean Paxton creates tension well with his stellar score, and Marcella Barbeau’s lighting design gives audiences proper focus while highlighting the intense final reveal of how the murder came to pass and who is responsible. Yoon Bae’s functional and visually appealing scenic design puts the audience into different locales and areas of the Orient Express smoothly and with great interior design. Lukas Pirmin Wassmann’s costumes are perfect as punch with the characteristics draping each actor and popping out well in tone with Lee’s directional concept. Greg Emetaz’s video design is outstanding, specifically with snow projections which nearly gave me a chill along with the cast trapped on the train amidst a snowstorm, the ultimate setting for the murder and suspicions to take place.

Murder on the Orient Express has such a literary legacy that, for those who have read the novel, seen a film or other stage adaptation, very little is left to surprise. In fact, I’m willing to bet that much of the packed matinee crowd I was sitting among already knew the reveals and twists and turns, but was still genuinely entertained. As a first timer, I was enthralled with the production and invested in every character’s journey. This production is top-notch, so get on the train and buy a ticket to join this zany cast of characters at Sierra Rep’s Murder at the Orient Express.

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