Monomoy Theatre’s “And Then There Were None” features, from left, Bernard Cornwell, Alycia M. Kunkle and Thomas Daniels.
photo by SARAH SIERSZYN
CHATHAM — An old adage proclaims there are only seven stories in the world. But along came mystery writer Agatha Christie, and then there were eight, the "whodunit," the Agatha Christie whodunit.
Monomoy Theatre, in association with Ohio University and the University of Hartford, presents the classic of all Christie classics, "And Then There Were None," a play adapted by Christie herself (with an altered ending necessary for a less nihilistic stage experience) based upon her best-seller novella whose past titles are not considered appropriate for modern-day media.
The book is so popular that only the Bible and Shakespeare have appeared in print more often, and both God and Shakespeare seem to be at an unfair advantage in a contest with a shy middle class, mostly self-taught British girl whose lifetime adventures started as a volunteer nurse in WWI.
It is difficult to introduce the plot of "And Then There Were None" without bumping into spoilers. There are so many in this story of 10 strangers, each with a sinful past, brought together to a lonely island under false pretenses. An omniscient host then begins to execute each one with deadly creativity in accordance with the British nursery rhyme "Ten Little Soldier Boys." I suspect that the statute of limitations runs out soon on a 74-year-old story, but, then again, the opening-night audience was actively discussing the possible identity of the murderer, so dictates on being spoiler-free still hold.
Directing with deft sleight of hand, David Haugen manages the large cast and the technical difficulty of carnage and near carnage all in a posh British living room. The roster could be daunting for a modern-day audience with a fruit-fly attention span from years spent in front of computers (me as an example), but the 10 "little soldier boys" are each memorable through Christie's clever introduction and reintroduction of the many characters to great comic effect.
Presiding over the cast is distinguished actor and writer Bernard Cornwell as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, who has been invited to Repentant Island for his hanging judge ways. Cornwell is an accomplished artist, an OBE, something he shares in common with the author of the play.
Other standout performances include the beautifully costumed (by designer Heather Jessup) Alycia Kunkle as Vera, a redhead chasing red herrings, and Andy Haftkowycz as William Blore, the detective who thinks he is on the case when he is actually part of the case. Haftkowycz's earnest and direct performance is a good balance to some of the Noel Cowardly tendencies here — presentation heavy on sidelong glances and elongated vowels.
The set by Andrew Sierszyn features neat arches overhead and books all askew below as if they were shoved into bookcases by desperate readers, an appropriate dichotomy for a stiff-upper-lip British story full of murder and betrayal.
Even if you remember "whodunit," this is a charming night at the theater — audience and actors linger in outdoor summer night breezes during intermission, and the Chatham Anglers game echoes in the distance. Summer theater. No mystery about it. There's nothing better.
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