Monday, January 16, 2017

Murder on the Nile—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR


Duplicitous Murder

The thriller was written by the Queen of mysteries herself, Agatha Christie, and this production is directed by Nancy McDonald, with assist from Laurence Overmire.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through February 12th.  For more information go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

If Ms. Christie be the Queen of mysteries then Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is certainly the King.  And their most famous detective creations, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, are internationally recognized.  Films of their works are really too numerous to mention.  Death on the Nile, representing the adaptation of her novel, includes Poirot as the sleuth who sniffs out the plot, Peter Ustinov and David Suchet being him in two of these films.  But, oddly, in the play adaptation of her work, she eliminates him from the plot.  She also changes one of the murder victims from one character to another which, in examining the story, does make more sense.

And, on this shimmering ship of sly suspects, she keeps an international flavor to it, with the English, Scots, French, Germans, Americans, and Arabs all represented.  The time is 1937, the advent of WWII, on board the steamer, Lotus, on the Nile.  With us for the trip are, a honeymooning couple, the poor but charismatic groom, Simon (Chase Fulton) and the wealthy and rather demanding bride, Kay (Tiffany Groben); her French maid, Louise (Mamie Wilhelm), who is a bit snotty; Canon Pennefather (Gary L. Anderson), a reverend and guardian to Kay, forever petitioning monies for the poor from her; Jackie (Sarah Jane Fridlich), the former lover of Simon and ex-best friend to Kay, who has been relentlessly stalking them.

Also there is the Socialist American William Smith (Jacob Lee Smith), snubbing his nose at the rich and defending the common laborers of the world; Dr. Bessner (Scott Engdahl), a German medical man who resents the wealthy family that Kay belongs to and he feels they are corrupt; Helen (Lisa Knox) a very snobbish, rich socialite, who feels everybody is beneath her; her shy niece, Christina (Katie Mortemore), who is attracted to the American (and vice-versa); and various Arabs (Joshua D. Willis, Alec Cameron Lugo and Matthew Sepeda) aboard the ship to keep things running smoothly.

As you can see from the descriptions, they all have motives to resent each other, either because of class and social positions, political differences, personal animosities and, the always present “root of all evil,” greed.  Many of their stories, of course, are only “red herrings,” designed to throw you off the scent of who the murderer is, but they are done by an expert and so, to discover the culprit and how the killer did it, is always the challenge.  I admit, being a mystery buff myself, she can usually fool me.  Sometimes I can guess the who, but not the how or why.  Such is it with this case.  Happy Hunting!

Miss Christie, as with her novels, does have a habit of overwriting a bit, because her stories are so intricate, she feels she has to disguise and/or explain her conclusions to the nth degree, so that the brain does become a bit weary.  But such is the nature of her plots, which I happen to like.  McDonald has done a masterful job of keeping everything moving to the extent that you don’t feel stifled by actually being in only one room for the entire play. She has also cast well so that each of the characters are distinctly drawn.  And the spacious set by Max Ward and period costumes by Margaret Louise Chapman add immensely to the success of the production.  Also, my friend, Christine, who was one of two people who came with me, was born and bred in England and so, I asked her, as to the authenticity of the accents.  She and I both agreed that Mortemore (Katie), as the niece of Helen, with her Scot’s accent, was the most impressive.

The performances were all spot on.  Lewis as the reverend, having one of the more major roles, was very good at keeping the thread of the story going forward so that the audience is always on their toes as to who’s who and what’s what.  Knox was delicious at playing one of those ole biddies you love to hate.  And Fridlich, as the spurned lover, was good at traversing the map of emotions.  All in all, a solid cast in an intriguing show, just the kind of story you’d want for a wintry, cold evening enwrapped in a warm, cozy  space with friends.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.