Review: ‘Murder on the Nile’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

Imagine this scene. You’re on a paddle steamer on the Nile River in Egypt. It’s the mid-60s. You find yourself surrounded by an off-kilter cast of characters: Miss Ffoliot-ffoulkes on holiday with her niece Christina Grant; a communist-leaning British lord named Smith, with the hots for Christina; a fez-wearing steward; a French maid named Louise; an old physician, Dr. Bessner; a rich girl Kay Mostyn and her new husband, Simon Mostyn; Jacqueline de Severac, friend of Kay and ex-lover of Simon; and a pious and slightly creepy parson, Canon Pennefather. Mix in an ill feeling that something sinister is bound to happen and you have the crux of Thunderous Productions’ Murder on the Nile. As directed by Rick Starkweather, Murder on the Nile is a mind-bending mental workout, a delectable evening of detective work on stage.

The cast. Photo courtesy of Thunderous Productions.

In a bit of directorial misdirection, Starkweather succeeded in making mystery author Agatha Christie’s characters come off effectively inscrutable. There was a creepiness in the key characters that kept a veil over the genuine goings on. There was no veil, however, over the stage mayhem in the first act: two shots rang out, one of the characters died and detection ensued.

Armaan Ayaz Tsiyon. Photo courtesy of Thunderous Productions.

Canon Pennefather exhibited a good degree of shadiness and did a great deal of the detective work. As played by Thunderous veteran Aref Dajani, “moral gangster” Pennefather appeared every bit as suspicious as the suspects he interrogated in quick succession. The fiery Jacqueline de Severac, played with a deep-green jealously by Devonna Burrowes stretched Pennefather’s sleuthing skills to the limit. Alexander Gordon, in his vintage green smoking jacket, played Simon Mostyn as the smoothest of British operators. Annette Landers was first-rate as French maid Louise. Jeff Robert, another Thunderous regular, dressed all in white and cream, including his fedora, was a debonair, spoiled drawing-room communist, complete with a cigarette in hand.

Christina Wilharm, who played in Thunderous’ Spider Web, another Agatha Christie play, was every bit the deeply-in-love honeymooner Kay Mostyn. Emily Canavan, as Christina Grant had a charming chemistry with Trix Whitehall’s Miss Ffoliot-ffoulkes. Armaan Tsiyon, adorned with a red fez, brought a touch of the exotic to the show as an Egyptian boat steward. Dr. Bessner was well played by Jon Marget.

Starkweather’s direction ensured the actors picked up their cues throughout. The British and French accents were well done. Generally, I would have liked to have seen more active blocking in such a verbose play. The black-painted set, which sat in a three-quarter thrust stage featured little detail, save faux portholes that were changed to indicate time of day. The chairs the actors sat in were non-vintage, and the imaginary cabins were off house left. No stage or costume designers were credited. Sound Technician James Gonzales’ gun shot effects were loud enough to startle. Murder on the Nile is a stimulating evening of savory stage sleuthing, ideal for mystery lovers everywhere.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Murder on the Nile plays through July 2, 2017, at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8700, or purchase them online.


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