When thinking about what might make for a rousing night of comedy, “murder” may not exactly be at the top of your list. But while Actors’ Playhouse’s production of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express maintains enough of the suspensefulness of the Agatha Christie original to make for a compelling evening, it also makes for a surprising amount of good plain fun.
The set up for the adventure is relatively simple: eight colorful passengers, a railway director, one attendant, and esteemed detective Hercules Poirot all board the famous Orient Express. But for one of these passengers, the next stop is not the expected Western Europe but in fact the great beyond.
Though the script is a little slow in getting to the titular incident, after that, this express train remains in swift motion as Poirot begins to search for a solution in the face of an increasingly baffling set of clues.
Terry Hardcastle excels in portraying the sleuth as the only sane man amongst the crew of accented and eccentric foreigners that join him on board, who are played by a set of top tier area actors. On the more down to earth side, Gaby Tortoledo and Lourelene Snedeker exude elegance and poise as their higher class characters Princess Dragomiroff and Countess Andrenyi, while Krystal Millie Valdes and Iain Batchelor make for a charming couple in Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot, a set of star-crossed lovers who have more than their passion to hide.
Seth Trucks and Mallory Newbrough also deliver some great comedic moments at the more whimsical figures of the overly mannered Michel and neurotic Swedish nursemaid Greta Ohlsson. But it’s Irene Adjan who undoubtedly steals the show as the joyful drunkard and serial divorcee Helen Hubbard, delightfully asserting her right to get sloshed around the clock and to sing and dance the Charleston to her heart’s content despite other passengers’ marked annoyance in one of the play’s funniest scenes.
Yet underneath all of its slapstick, which is kept in perfectly paced form by director David Arisco, Murder On The Orient Express does have enough of a soul to make the story a somewhat touching as well as entertaining one. Over time, the case in question is revealed to be a revenge story inspired by the tragic case of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindberg’s young son, which has been fictionalized into an equally horrific incident. The play’s conclusion thus not only stuns us with its cleverness but brings with it satisfying intimations of justice done, complete with a “where are they now” that wraps up any loose ends the tight solution leaves lingering.