Entertainment » Theatre

And Then There Were None

by Kay Bourne
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jun 12, 2009
And Then There Were None

Thanks to the imaginative and skillful direction of Peyton Pugmire that oft told mystery And Then There Were None is a night of chills, not stifled yawns. His fine hand is everywhere from a set that is as hospitable to ghostly creatures as it is inhospitable to the living, and on to the sounds of the sea lashing the rocks at the bottom of a precipice on which is perched a mansion. He elicits sterling performances as well.?

The creepy-crawly-shriek factor is due largely to a shadow cast comprised of one ghost each for the ten individuals who until they stepped foot into a mansion on an island off the coast of Devon had literally gotten away with murder - the wraiths in ghastly masks and rags are the people they sent to their deaths who now will witness revenge. Whether these wretched visitors from the grave are figments of a guilty imagination or a ghost army of justice seekers or merely strange wisps of fog from the sea is left up to you to decide.?

The Footlight Club's superior production of And Then There Were None continues for two weekends, Friday and Saturday nights, June 12-13 and 19-20, at Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot St. in Jamaica Plain. For more info you can go on-line to www.footlight.org or phone 617-524-6506, ?

Agatha Christie herself adapted her wildly successful 1939 novel with its story of ten guests isolated on an island for the stage, changing the grim conclusion which she felt would not work dramatically. Some of the names were also changed with General MacArthur becoming General McKenzie probably out of respect to America's General Douglas MacArthur who was coming into prominence in World War II which was raging at the time (1943). There is a new version of the play written by Kevin Elyot and directed by Steven Pimlott which opened at the Gielgud Theater in London in 2005 which returns the ending to that of the novel, however, it appears that Mr. Pugmire has worked from the Christie script.?

Ten different people from varying social classes have been invited to go to a mansion on Soldier Island (imagined from the real Burgh Island off the coast of Devon) by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen. They are welcomed by two sisters Ethel and Mildred Rogers (originally written as a butler and his wife) who tell them that their hosts are currently away. The repetitive comment becomes a bit of humor (another entertaining touch from director Pugmire that rescues this mystery from stiltedness).?

Not long after the guests arrive, it dawns on them that the hosts's name is an acronym for "unknown." Then it comes to light as well that they have in common that they had each of them committed murder but escaped punishment due to technicalities. They cannot get back to the mainland because the boat that delivers supplies to the island has stopped arriving. "And Then There Were None" is generally regarded as one of the greatest whodunits of all time.?

Under Pugmire's direction Eliot Hall is an extension of the mansion, its polished wood paneling dimly lit by electric candles in the sconces. A disembodied voice advises you to turn off your cell phones. The wall lights fade out.?

The curtain parts to reveal a handsomely appointed room with its furniture covered by dust cloths. These coverings are removed by the wraiths choreographed by Pugmire to move like modern dance dancers. Throughout the performance they function simultaneously as stage hands and frightful figures from the beyond. Kai Chao is the movement coach for the production. Lighting is of paramount importance in a mystery story, especially one that lights the dead as well as the living and Jon Bonner has done the job of lighting design extremely well.?

At opposite ends of the large living room are a full length portrait of a woman (reminiscent of the portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner) and on the other wall an equally large sized poster which has a nursery rhyme printed on it that begins "Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine" (both of these effective set pieces were painted by Brian Crete). Pugmire is responsible for the set design and decoration which includes ten marble miniature figurines of soldiers standing on marble mantel piece beneath the poster.?

That the doomed guests come across as stereotypes of British society of the 30ties or pieces from a game of Clue is likely because Agatha Christie is so well read and imitated. As performed, however, these vaguely familiar types from a high court judge to a seedy detective also seem very human. Dialect coach Jason Dawson has effectively drilled the actors to speak with credible British accents.?

Tom Mort is rightfully obnoxious as the smarmy Anthony Marston, the odious, amoral rich kid who drives his sports cars too fast, with Kate deLima and Lindsay Darling similarly believable on the other end of the social scale as the properly subservient housekeeper and cook. Brian Moyer seems right out of service in the colonies as General MacKenzie. The prudish Emily Brent whose prim self righteousness can be equated with an unkind heart is nicely played by Victoria J. Taylor. Matthew John Finn is excellent as William Henry Blore, the retired police officer and now private investigator.

Even in this situation a romance blooms. Cheryl Bellows is wonderfully unnerved as Vera Elizabeth Claythorne who floats from secretarial job to secretarial job but was once a governess whose young charge drowned. Marston is attracted to her as is soldier of fortune, the dashing Philip Lombard, given a strong performance by Ethan Scott.?

Two of the most fascinating figures are former surgeon and now a teetottler Dr. Edward George Armstrong fascinatingly played by Mark Sickler and the take charge Judge Lawrence Wargrave known for handing out the death penalty portrayed with proper solemnity by Rishi Basu.?

The characters are perfectly dressed in?period costumes by Maureen Festa and coiffeured by Jenny Bragdon.?
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The Dead ensemble moved with an eerie grace and suitable creepiness: Kamelia Aly, Rob Guptill (who doubles nicely as the boatman), Rob Festa, Rachel Braum, Liz Laneri, Elena Jordan, Kristopher Moreau, Kyle Capogna, Kendrick Hough, and Shari Caplan.?

And Then There Were None is Christie's best selling novel with 100 million copies to date, according to Wikipedia, making it the world's best selling mystery and the seventh most popular book of all time. Imitations abound from a Spiderman adventure in Marvel comics to the 1976 Broadway show Something's Afoot starring Tessie O'Shea and an episode of TV's Remington Steele. The 1945 film directed by Rene Clair with Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Heyward, and Dame Judith Anderson is its own classic.?

Only very occasionally does a director's vision get so totally realized as in the Footlight Club's remarkable production of And Then There Were None."The stars are aligned for this one.?

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