The Tred Avon Players bring Agatha Christie’s classic mystery back to homicidal life in this tale of a serial killer who accomplishes nine murders–or is it 10? –on a foreshortened weekend.
Dame Agatha considered “And Then There Were None”–scandalously known by other titles–her most challenging novel to write. Published in 1939, it was followed by a 1943 stage adaptation, also by Christie, and a 1945 movie. The book was also one of her greatest successes–more than 100 million copies sold, making it to this day among the all-time best-sellers.
The book and play were long known as “Ten Little Indians,” and before that, “Ten Little . . .” (Africans)–except that’s not what they were called in the original title, both derived from a children’s counting rhyme and minstrel song. The rhyme, which plays a prominent role in more recent play productions–including this one–has morphed into “ten little soldiers.” The more intriguing, certainly more appropriate, current title comes from the rhyme’s final line.
Aside from the one-by-one murders, the plot revolves around invitations to eight strangers and a married servant couple by an absentee host identified as U.N. Owen. (Mr. Unknown?) An ominous recording accuses each guest, and the help, of dastardly crimes for which none have done penance.
The Spy asked each Tred Avon Player, aptly cast by director Tim Weigand, to cite their character’s choicest line. Here’s what they offered and what those lines and their interpretation may suggest.
William Blore (played by David Cherry): “They done a murder and got away with it.”
Cherry acts the part of a suspicious character because, to everyone else who arrives at the “Unknown Estate,” he’s Suspect No. 1 after the first murder. For one thing, he alone introduces himself using an alias. For another, he’s a cop, very possibly rogue.
Anthony Marsden (played alternately by Alex Greenlee): “Tricky, what?” (and by Nick Richards): “I need another drink.”
It may have been drunk driving that got this devil-may-care young man invited to this soiree in which no one, except perhaps the perp, gets out alive. A tricky what’s-what, eh, Tony?
Sir Laurence Wargrave (Steve Ford): “I cooked Seton’s goose.”
Edward Seton was a hirsute young man sentenced to hang by Judge Wargrave for the murder of an elderly woman. Ford, who besides the judicial wig he wears as part of his character’s official duties, is as bald as he is inquisitive, fittingly so for an esteemed lord.
Rogers, the butler (Michael Sosler): “And there’s plenty of beer in the house.”
Appropriately obsequious as a hired servant, Sosler projects his own taste in beverage preference over that of his guests, who tend more toward whiskey, brandy, and fine wine.
Mrs. Rogers, the cook (Mary Ann Emerson): “Rich folks is queer.”
Remember, the Christie novel was written just before World War II. So translate “queer” as “odd.” You can bet that sexual orientation would not occur to Mrs. Rogers, played by Emerson as a woman not often seen outside the kitchen, possibly not even by her husband.
Emily Brent (Lynn Sanchez): “I would have thought you might be a bit uncomfortable in that dress.”
The lack of “comfort” Miss Brent ascribes to a fellow guest is all her own. To her, Vera’s tattoos are wicked stains on her soul. Revealingly, Sanchez excuses her spinster character’s own wickedness in hounding an unmarried teenage mother to literal death as God’s judgment on the girl.
Vera Claythorne (Cecile Davis Storm): “Such restraint in the face of danger is truly heroic.”
Vera claims to be a secretary mysteriously hired for this occasion. Her attire, and the tattoos it reveals, draw spinster Emily’s condemning attention. But, as played by Storm, Vera is more receptive to carrots than sticks. She flirts back with the handsome Capt. Lombard as they dance around the whodunit conundrum.
Philip Lombard (Casey Rauch): “What a law-abiding lot we seem to be.”
A debonair womanizer as portrayed by Rauch, Lombard picks up on “heroic” as his cover for the deaths of 21 African tribesmen under his command, calling his abandonment of them in seeking their rescue as “the only truly heroic thing” he’s ever done. Still, he looks good, formally dressed for dinner that never comes, caressing a glass of whiskey.
General Mackenzie (Rob Sanchez): “Fellow’s a madman.”
We won’t say to whom the general is referring. In any case, as played by Sanchez, Mackenzie may have no clue. He teases us with threads of insight here and there but mostly imagines being in the presence of a deceased loved one. Maybe his comments are self-referential.
Dr. Armstrong (Cavin Alexandra Moore) “Many homicidal maniacs are very quiet, unassuming people.”
Truer words, it can be said, or in this case, spoken. But take care in taking this as a spoiler. Or is it just a ploy by Christie to throw you off? Whatever, Moore’s performance only adds, as it should, to the riddle on the fireplace mantle – counting down the stick-figure soldiers.
Two production observations: First, the set design by Cece Davis Storm (aka Vera) captures the elegant taste and wherewithal of the mystery host. The architecturally framed sightlines invite us to imagine an English Channel view glimpsed from within this remote island estate.
Secondly, if you have a choice of performances to see, skip the matinee. Daylight makes it impossible to produce a blackout in Oxford Community Center’s theater space. Director Weigand suggests individual or communal blackouts: Closing your eyes on cue in Act II. (Lest you accidentally catch a visual spoiler.) In any case, closing your eyes is no dramatic equivalent of an actual blackout. Who isn’t afraid of the dark in the presence of mass murder?
Also, be prepared for a two-and-a-half-hour show. I put that one on Dame Agatha falling in love with her own talky script.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic now living in Easton.
“AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”
Agatha Christie’s classic play performed by the Tred Avon Players, Oxford Community Center, Thursday, April 28 through Sunday, May 1. tredavonplayers.org