Suspicious Characters

Hercule Poirot (C.C. Shaw) chatting with his old friend Monsieur Bouc (Rehema Kiama), a railway director, who kindly installed him on the already overbooked Orient Express.

The audience was enchanted, cheering and clapping after each scene on Friday, Jan. 13, when Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express premiered at Santa Catalina School in Monterey. Director Lara Wheeler Devlin used Ken Ludwig’s hilarious 2017 adaptation, written at the request of the Agatha Christie Estate, delighting the public with a strong dose of modern comedy.

“They really put their heart and soul into it,” Devlin says of the 40 students from the Upper School at Santa Catalina taking part in the current production. “The theater is a place where they can develop their characters, on and off stage,” she says.

The cast features C.C. Shaw as world-famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Nikol Lahoda as beautiful Princess Dragomiroff and Emmy Mchugh as the funny, but not entirely innocent, conductor Michel. Speaking of suspicious characters, Delphinia Hayward plays the cunning governess Mary Debenham and Charlotte Juge takes on the role of hilariously superstitious family nurse Greta Ohlsson. All these characters are thrust together on the Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Western Europe on a winter night in 1934. They all knew little Daisy Armstrong, and they all have a murderous plan in mind. What’s more, they think they can outsmart the little detective with a big mustache. But how wrong they are, mon ami.

The biggest comic relief is provided by the character Helen Hubbard, aka the grandmother of Daisy Armstrong (played by Hope Sallee). Hubbard is unapologetically American – though her flirtatiousness and Midwestern frankness turn out to be a mask covering a true criminal mastermind.

The set design is also worthy of praise, with rapid changes that don’t leave a second for visual boredom. There’s snow, an old-fashioned locomotive and dollhouse-like compartments. Technical Director Ama Maximoff is even able to take us back in time, using video and haunting red light, to recreate grim details from the original murder of Daisy Armstrong that is now pushing the tormented travelers to commit a hideous crime.

However, if you want to know who really murdered Samuel Ratchett and why, hurry to purchase a ticket for one of the two remaining shows.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS 12:45pm Friday, Jan. 20 and 7:30pm Saturday, Jan. 21. Santa Catalina School Performing Arts Center, 1500 Mark Thomas Drive, Monterey. $15. santacatalina.org

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