In the last few days, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater proved that Milwaukee’s appetite for Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot remains unsatisfied. And they do it with a masterful presentation of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express. And despite our previous experiences around Christie and Poirot, we will once again be mesmerized.
Working with one of their larger casts of the season and an amazing set, Hercule Poirot sorts out eight suspects in a very strange murder in something of a byzantine plot and setting…on a famous train stranded temporarily by snow in the Yugoslav mountains.
We open by meeting Hercule Poirot, ably played by Steven Rattazzi, who lives up to all of our expectations for a proper Poirot. And this first little prelude lets us in on the fact that he found this to be a very puzzling and difficult case and leading on that what we are about to see is a re-enactment and not real time (of course how could 1934 be real time). But we will forget that little factoid until he returns to center stage for the postlude.
But then we quickly transition to the story and meet our cast of train passengers and eventual suspects in the hotel restaurant, where everyone is having their pre-boarding meals. And where we get inklings of the tensions the characters are feeling…hint…hint…hint.
And so the fun starts as our cast of suspects board the train, create new clues, expose foibles, quirks, and character traits. And we get to meet Michel, the conductor of the first class car. And of course the acting has to be over the top and our characters’ eccentricities and ethnic/cultural backgrounds come to the fore! And director Annika Boras keenly choreographs their relationships and interactions to accent all of those eccentricities to the hilt. ..to say nothing of keeping them in the right set as they move through the set and the set seemingly moves through them.
So our cast and characters: Diana Coates as the Countess Andrenyi who also happens to be a physician, Emjoy Gavino as Mary Debanham, an attractive young English woman in love with Col. Arbuthnot, and of course the good colonel played by Jonathan Wainwright as a retired Scottish army hero. And then Greta Ohlsson played by Park Krausen, an overzealous missionary who is currently travelling as Princess Dragomoff’s assistant. And the Princess? She is a Russian royal in exile following the Russian Revolution and played with snooty aplomb by Barbara Robertson. And Helen Hubbard, even in this retelling comes off as a phony and overtop Midwestern drama queen, played by Gail Rastorfer. And who’s left? Well, Will Mobley playing Hector MacQueen as the secretary to American businessman Samuel Ratchett…who is also played by Mr. Wainwright. And our trustworthy eager to please, long time railroad employee and classic Parisian, Michel, our conductor played by Adam Poss! And finally Monsieur Bouc, Belgian manager of the rail company that runs the Orient Express, and personal friend of Poirot…and the only character without a first name…is played by Gregory Livingston.
So with this diverse crew, how does one find the murderer? And as you will see, with all of the divergent clues, how does one find the murderer? I won’t give away which unfortunate becomes the deceased but as you watch the play unfold, you will either guess or be unsurprised. So, I’ll leave further discussion here except for this excerpt from the play guide:
With snow coming down, the passengers trapped, and a murderer on the loose, it is up to the intrepid Detective Poirot to solve the case of the Murder on the Orient Express.
But there is one more character that is vital to this play that we mustn’t overlook. And that is the incredible set the moves us through the various locales of our play. This is certainly the most complex and enjoyable set this side of the classic set for the Rep’s Christmas Carol. So that is why I warned you to pay attention…because the set revolves us from external views of the first class car to interiors of the dining car or the suites/bedrooms or the walkways at the end of the car. It is amazing to anticipate the next scene and interactions as you watch the turntable turn our world inside out and back again. So once more, hats off to director Annika Boras for keeping all of the characters moving in the ‘right direction’ as the world turns!
[editor’s note : June 11, 2022] How did I overlook the most important part of a murder mystery…the denouement…when the detective provides us with the clues in the plot line and ‘discovers’ the murderer! So of course you see this very play resolution in the preceding photograph…as Hercule Poirot tells us the final story of the story! And this was truly a spectacular moment for the entire cast, director Annika Boras, and lighting designer Noele Stollmack. As Poirot recounts his thought process, the cast freezes and the spotlight focuses on that one particular suspect as they reprise their lines that became part of the great clue(s)! Well done one and all.
Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express continues at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from now until July 1, 2022 in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. It is recommended for viewers 12 years old and up. Ticket information can be found here.
And I think that’s a fake mustache (after you see the play, you’ll understand! LOL!)