Historic Drama Incites Davidson Community Players’ “Murder on the Orient Express”
Intrigue, drama, thrills, mystery, romance, deception, and murder all resonate at the Armour Street Theatre where Davidson Community Players (DCP is staging a powerhouse classic mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. And Lake Norman’s troupe of players does the 90-year-old story justice!
Based on the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindberg baby and a railroad crippling six-day blizzard in Turkey, Agatha Christie began to write a mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Although her book was published in 1934, the story first appeared in six installations of The Saturday Evening Post in 1933.
Decades later, prolific playwright Ken Ludwig’s clever stage adaptation of the exotic characters on the famous luxury train premiered in 2017, at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. And now, five years hence, Ludwig’s dramatic version of Murder on the Orient Express is being produced in Davidson, North Carolina.
Directed by Marla Brown, DCPs beautifully designed two-act play featuring eleven diverse, amazingly unusual, outrageous characters aboard a famous snowbound train on a pint-size stage is a theatrical treat! Bravo, Set Designer Tim Beany and Costume Designer Della Knowles—the outfits are fabulous!
We meet the passengers at an elegant hotel dining room set at audience level in the Armour Street house. Davidson Community Players’ old pale blue heavy curtains hide the panting Orient Express. Haven’t seen those drapes in many a year—they’re seldom used in plays now-a-days.
The inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, meticulously portrayed by John DeMicco, steps forward to recount the tale of a mysterious incident that is about to occur. He doesn’t have a berth on the sold-out, wagon-lit car so railroad owner Monsieur Boue, played by Jim Greenwood. offers the detective his own private quarters. The curtains open. It’s delightful to see both accomplished actors back on the Davidson Community Players boards.
Two other familiar performers also have returned to the Armour Street stage. Zendyn Duellman as Mary Debenham and Pam Coble Newcomer as Helen Hubbard, both playing demanding obnoxious American women. They’re magnificent!
While the elegant Princess Dragomiroff, portrayed by Kris Lineberger, also requires undivided attention due to the importance of her position, she is trailed by her innocent young Swedish companion, Greta Ohlsson, played by Olivia Pedersen.
Michel the Conductor, performed by Rigo Nova, tries to appease and serve everyone, including the versatile Countess Andrenyi, played by Elizabeth Calisi, and the impatient Colonel Arbuthnot, portrayed by Justin Thomas.
Shakesperean actor Mike McGarr is the sleeper. He plays Samuel Ratchett, Head Waiter and Radio Voice, and has his demur scribe Hector MacQueen, performed by Aaron Marsh, at this beck and call.
A man is murdered, and Poirot realizes the culprit must be one of them—they’re isolated by the snowy rockfall. Although elegant, demanding, and self-focused, each passenger has an alibi and Poirot discovers they’re all deceptive liars!
The manner of staging requires frequent scene changes, particularly during the second act, and is ingenious. I hope the generous crew of volunteer stagehands has learned to speed up its work since opening night. And I expect some of the male actors have increased the volume of their voices since then. There were times I could barely hear some of their words from my seat up front—patrons in back probably wished they had brought a set of hearing aids.
Actors are magnificent, and the production is superb. Well done, Marla! Tim Beany’s lighting design effectively sets the mood for each scene. The only thing lacking was snow! I kept hoping to see it cascade behind the train car windows—if not down in front of the stage.
Murder on the Orient Express on the Davidson Community Players stage is classic whodunit drama, and though comedic at times, is a delightful way to spend an evening. Although you may have heard some performances are sold out, try to show up anyway. Oftentimes there are no-shows for a variety of reasons and the empty seat could be yours.
Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active, founding member of Lake Norman Writers, currently she is writing chapters of memoir and continues to review theatre in the Lake Norman area.