Clever, Creative 'Murder On The Orient Express' At Chatham Drama Guild

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Kathy Hamilton and Joe Theroux in “Murder on the Orient Express” at the Chatham Drama Guid. COURTESY PHOTO

The Chatham Drama Guild has a first class winner on its hands in the form of its final production of the season, "Murder on the Orient Express."

With a talented and seasoned cast that loves what it is doing and exceptionally creative staging, "Murder" is an engaging and entertaining mystery complete with drama, comedy and surprises. The show is also the Cape Cod premiere of a new adaptation by playwright Ken Ludwig of the classic Agatha Christie whodunit.

The plot revolves around a murder that takes place in the 1930s on the Orient Express, a luxury train en route in winter from Istanbul to Calais and London. Renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, also a passenger, is faced with solving a brutal murder committed in the first class cabins while the train is stranded in a snowdrift outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. He must act quickly, before the Yugoslavian police arrive and before another murder can take place.

The mystery opens on a stage set as a hotel in Istanbul. Poirot, powerfully played by Chatham Drama Guild veteran Joe Theroux, has been invited by long time friend Monsieur Bouc, played by veteran performer Glenn Starner-Tate, to journey back to London on the Orient Express. One by one we meet the rest of the characters as they board the train. Princess Dagomiroff, regally presented by community theater veteran Sheila Jamieson, arrives with her long-suffering companion Greta Ohlsson, the talented Lizzy Smythe.

City mobster Samuel Rachett, played with panache by Bragan Thomas, bullies his way onto the train, with his beleaguered aide Hector MacQueen, the talented John Hanright, at his side. Rachett will earn a slap in the face for his rudeness from fellow passenger Countess Andrenyi, captured beautifully by Chatham Drama Guild veteran Kathy Hamilton.

Colonel Arbuthnot, also enacted by Bragan Thomas, and Mary Debenham, played by Stephanie Haig in her second production at CDG this season, board the train as they try to keep their romance a secret. And the talented Alison Hyder makes her Chatham Drama Guild debut with comedic flair as wealthy Baltimorean passenger Helen Hubbard.

Rounding out the cast are Vaughn Yerkes as the conductor and Peter Creedon as the head waiter.

These 11 gifted and experienced actors bring to the stage their uniform love of theater, their joy in acting, and their happiness in being back live on stage again. The audience was clearly happy to be back too and stayed with them through all the twists and turns of this show.

Special kudos to Bragan Thomas, whose heroic work in two roles in this show stands out. One role requires a brash New York accent and persona, while the other asks him to inhabit the stiff upper lip and deportment of a Scottish military officer, complete with Scottish accent.

Accolades also to Kathy Hamilton who has a particularly affecting scene towards the end of the show, sharing her character's deepest emotions both sensitively and movingly.  

The staging of this show, directed by talented local theater veteran Scott Hamilton, is remarkable. The show's movable backdrops with their multiple layers of sliding sets take us first to the hotel in Istanbul and then gradually into the train itself, to the dining car and further back into the intimacies of the sleeping cars. Sets are rolled on and off smoothly and authentically convey the feeling of being aboard a luxury train in Europe in the 1930s.

The thoughtful costume design work, a tribute to costumer Pam Banas and her team, transports us to that era too, with the elegance expected on a luxury train. And the lighting and sound design, under the direction of Don Howell, provides an effective and positive complement to the story. Pulling the onstage work together smoothly is another CDG veteran, stage manager Karen McPherson, who has been performing on Cape Cod stages since 1996.