A murderer is lurking aboard the famed Orient Express. Unfortunately for the fiend, the world’s greatest detective is also riding the train. Will Hercule Poirot be able to solve the baffling killing of a shady businessman? Find out in Murder on the Orient Express currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
As I stated in a previous review of this production, I’m not going to delve into plot details as I want the audience to experience the story fresh so they get maximum enjoyment out of it. However, I can say that Ken Ludwig does an admirable job adapting Agatha Christie’s classic novel. Ludwig stays fairly close to the source material though he does eliminate several characters which is a salient plot point and clue in the novel, but works around it pretty well. Though known for farce, Ludwig plays this show pretty straight, yet manages to work a little humor into the story with his vaunted wordplay.
Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is, on the whole, very accurate and precise. He cuts a brutally brisk pace which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as Poirot peels back the layers of the case. His staging is spot on, making us feel the enclosed nature of the train and always well placing his performers so you can see their reactions to the goings-on at any given moment. Clark-Kaczmarek also proves adept at pulling out some truly masterful performances from his thespians. That being said, it also seemed like he tried to force a little comedy into the production as several of his actors were a little over the top which made them feel like caricatures instead of characters and didn’t always gel with the more grounded performances.
Some of the highlights of the night were Brennan Thomas who is a pretty mean S.O.B. as the murder victim, Samuel Ratchett. Olivia Howard gives a beautiful, underplayed performance as the governess, Mary Debenham. Ethan Dragon gives a master class in animation as the affable, and theatrical, Monsieur Bouc.
Connie Lee dominates her scenes as the obnoxious Helen Hubbard. When Hubbard starts talking, one starts looking for her off switch as she never shuts up and has a grating personality that would even rub Mr. Rogers the wrong way. Whether she’s frustrating passengers with late night singing and dancing or flirting with the conductor in an attempt to nab a new husband, Lee simply lights up the stage with her effervescent presence.
Daena Schweiger displays a superior dry wit as Princess Dragomiroff. Seldom have I seen such potent hilarity come from such monotone delivery. Schweiger knows just what words to emphasize or phrasing to utilize to get the fullest effect from Dragomiroff’s lines and her verbal sparring with Lee’s Hubbard was one of the show’s shining moments.
Seth Maisel wows in his Playhouse debut with a superb turn as Hercule Poirot. Maisel easily conveys Poirot’s uber fastidious (bordering on OCD) personality with his hyper attention to details and the wiping of his hands after shaking with an old friend. He also well communicates his genius with his rapid-fire deductions and ability to see through red herrings. Maisel also brought a fantastic intensity to the role which I thoroughly enjoyed. Maisel’s Poirot kowtows to nobody and has a highly developed sense of justice which is put to the test when that sense of justice is challenged by his dedication to the law. His realization that, for once, justice and the law may not be one and the same leads to a haunting monologue excellently and subtly delivered by Maisel.
Justin Payne’s score had me ready for a night of mystery with its relentless eeriness. Jim Othuse surpassed himself with this set as the Orient Express became another character with its luxurious sleeping compartments, elegant dining room, and imposing edifice during a scene done on the back of the train. Lindsay Pape’s costumes were right on the money with the elegant suit of the impeccably dressed Poirot, the doughty dress of the uber religious Greta Ohlsson, or the spiffy uniform of Michel, the conductor highlighting some of her costuming prowess. John Gibilisco and Tim Burkhart impressed with their sounds whether it be a gunshot, a chugging and braking train, or the flashback effect used on voices during the denouement.
The show will assuredly hold your attention and perhaps even have you white knuckling your armrests at points. With its blitzkrieg pace, strong writing, assured direction, and solid performances, Murder on the Orient Express does provide a gripping night of mystery.
Murder on the Orient Express runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 10. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.