Set in the 1930s in a mansion on an island, Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE NONE sees eight guests and two servants gather together for a party hosted by the mysterious U.N. Owen. By way of gramophone, each is accused of being a murderer. One-by-one they are killed is gruesome ways according to the children’s rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers” (a poem far less racist than the original). With every death leading to the terrifying conclusion, the guests become more frantic to discover who among them is pulling the strings. Unfortunately, the real horror of Christie’s original ending sits in discord with the show’s campy beginning.
The actors in Allens Lane Theatre’s production, seem torn between these two worlds. Rodgers, the butler (Geremy Webne-Behrman), sits firmly in the camp camp. He seems to be Riffraff, the butler from Rocky Horror Picture Show, dropped in the wrong production. His wife Ethel (Molly Edelman) is the first to blast us with a melodramatic breakdown, inevitably followed by Dr. Armstrong (Sam Fineman) and the lovely Vera Claythorne (Megan Edelman). Edelman at least sits comfortably in her character’s skin, whereas Fineman’s nervous doctor is bursting at the seams. He shakes uncontrollably throughout, and when he falls off the wagon he chugs and sloshes “booze” so vehemently it reminds us that it is only a play, and the whiskey is merely colored water.
Amber Orion plays a believable Captain Lombard, but her take on his self-assuredness comes off as being a blowhard, instead of a charismatic romantic lead. Detective Blore (Peter Zielinski) isn’t as clever as Lombard, but the Zielinski’s natural demeanor gives the character a personhood that we route for. Josh Hitchens makes an interesting directorial decision with prim, religious Emily Brent (Carole Mancini), giving her a backstory as a repressed lesbian. This could give motive and dimension to her character, but the unsubtle way she comes on to Miss Claythorne seems in opposition to her usual prudish self-restraint.
Robert Bauer as Judge Wargrave and Ryan Walter as General Mackenzie give the strongest performances. Bauer connects with the ensemble wholly and fits like a puzzle piece. Walter inspires a deeper emotion than the shock and screaming horror of the rest by going into Mackenzie’s nostalgic sorrow and bringing the audience with him.
The play occurs almost totally in one room. The spare set is enhanced by two projections showing lonely cliffs beaten by waves, fritzing ominous graphics, or flashing back to a haunting memory. These work for many effects, but sometimes open up a claustrophobic scene when it should be at its closest.
They are in direct relation to the sound design, which plays as big a part as any actor. The metallic grindings of modern horror movies periodically stab through, breaking the tension built by the spooky old record songs and constant wind and sea noises. These audio/visual effects (J. Kenneth Jordan), are also responsible for the dramatic shift in the second act from farce to psychological thriller.
Miss Claythorne and Captain Lombard’s kiss bring Lombard’s conscience to life while video of lynched Africans plays to “Strange Fruit”. This scene and the bleak end are powerful, but by robbing the piece of Christie’s slow building tension, this production leaves us more stunned than moved.
[Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane]. January 13th-29th, 2017; allenslane.org.