Attend the short run of Reston Community Players’ production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and you will likely experience the audience gasping in unison!
Oh, not at a revealing plot point or character confession. The audible intake of air took place when the curtain rose to reveal a train car onstage.
Not a “real” rail car, but a stunningly accurate, detailed recreation of one of the Orient Express’ elegant carriages, circa 1934. Steamrolling from underneath, characteristic sounds of engines and gears whirring, awaiting the train’s fatal voyage were all recreated with panache by director Kimberly Leone — tripling her duties adding set designer and scenic designer to her credits. Leone, master carpenter Sara Birkhead, and their team are to be commended for setting the scene (literally) for the adventure ahead.
But a play is more than an impressive set design, and this production of Ken Ludwig’s dramatization of Agatha Christie’s famous mystery novel does not disappoint in any department. RCP’s production is designed beautifully, paced briskly, and packed with talent all calculated to deliver the famous murder mystery stylishly and satisfyingly.
Leone’s directorial style is to keep the action fluid and the characters interesting. Her cast is up to the task, beginning with Ricardo Padilla as the sleuth of the hour, the celebrated Hercule Poirot. Looking very dapper, with a substantial mustache, Padilla’s Poirot is vital, quick, and engaging from curtain to curtain.
Padilla is ably supported by Anthony Pohl as the harried railroad director, Monsieur Bouc, who serves as a neutral party and pseudo-Watson to Padilla’s master detective. Pohl and Padilla’s scenes together sparkle, thanks to their delivery and Ludwig’s witty script.
Speaking of the adaptation, faithful readers of Christie’s famous novel will notice some minor but noticeable changes. The playwright has whittled the suspects down to eight, compared to a dozen in the original. Ludwig also takes some additional liberties that do not diminish Christie’s novel — more on this later. What remains is the clever mystery and Poirot’s intricate investigation and the two possible solutions (not to be spoiled here!).
The victim and man with many secrets, Samuel Ratchett, is played menacingly by Damian Michael. As in the novel and film adaptations, Ratchet has to make a strong and odious impression; Michael hits a bullseye.
The passengers and train staff looked at as suspects are each strong performers who make their mark and skillfully drop their clues for Poirot’s “little grey cells.” Dan Dymond, with a thick French accent, as train conductor Michel, is delightful. The loud and very American Helen Hubbard is brought to life by Adrienne Daly, complete with the flattest Minnesota accent ever. Marion Joseph plays Ratchett’s assistant, Hector MacQueen with nervous efficiency.
Other suspects include Caitlin Costello and John Mathews as Mary and the Colonel, a secret couple with even more secrets. The religious and oh-so-nervous Greta Ohlsson is played by Elizabeth LeBoo.
Former New York cabaret artist M.B. Jones brings a husky grace and strong presence as the Russian Princess Dragomiroff, landing the grand lady’s dry quips perfectly.
In Ludwig’s adaptation, the final suspect also comes to Poirot’s aid by combining the married Countess Andreyi with the doctor who can examine the murder victim. (The novel includes a Greek doctor Constantine.) This little plot twist adds a little pep to Poirot’s step, as the detective is momentarily smitten by the young and attractive countess. Of course, it also adds a complication. Shelby Young effortlessly portrays the Countess, and her scenes with Padilla’s Poirot add an unrequited romantic twist to the mysterious journey.
Along with the artistically rich set design and scenic elements, Lisa Leary’s sumptuous period costumes gild the actors in splendid array. Franklin C. Coleman’s evocative and effective lighting design brings color and enhances the murderous atmosphere to the fullest.
I first read Christie’s novel years ago in junior high school and became hooked; then and now, I love to cozy up with a great murder mystery on a cold winter night. Reston Community Players bringing Murder on the Orient Express to the stage is a wonderful way to pass a few hours, too.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Murder on the Orient Express plays through January 28, 2024, presented by Reston Community Players, performing at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, 2310 Colts Neck Road in Reston, VA. For tickets ($25–$30), contact the box office at 703-476-4500 x38 or purchase online. CenterStage is accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.
Murder on The Orient Express
Written by Ken Ludwig
Based on the story written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Kim Leone
Produced by Richard Durkin