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A 'Murder' worth seeing

Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Nile" now playing at Olympia Little Theatre is a typical Christie whodunit in many respects.

There are the stock characters: the snooty old British dame (Miss ffouliett-foulkes, played by Cassie Cahill), the beautiful young heiress (Kay Ridgeway Mostyn, played by Abby Wells), the wisecracking young radical (William Smith, played by James McGinnis), the French maid, Louise (Kathryn Philbrook) and the innocent young girl (Miss ffouliett-foulkes’ niece Christina, played by Silva Goetz).

Also typical of a Christie mystery: everyone is trapped together. They’re always trapped, be it in a country home during a storm, on a train, or in this instance on a ship; someone is murdered and someone in the house/train/boat is the killer.

Where “Murder on the Nile” breaks from the norm is that, 1) there is more in-depth character development and less emphasis on plot, although the plot is complex and skillfully woven, and 2) there is no Hercule Poirot. The investigating usually done by Poirot or Miss Marple is done by a priest, Canon Ambrose Pennefather (Tim Shute).

Kay is supposedly the richest girl in all of England. She recently married Simon (Samuel Johnston), a young man with very little money or social standing. They’re on their honeymoon. Everywhere they go they are trailed by Jacqueline (Hannah Eklund Broom), formerly Kay’s best friend and Simon’s fiancée, who has made no secret that she’d like to murder Kay.

Naturally we can dismiss Jacqueline as a murder suspect when Kay is shot to death, because she is too obvious.

Or is Christie just teasing the audience, knowing everyone will dismiss the most obvious suspect?

Father Pennefather is the only calm and reasoning person on the ship. One by one he questions all of the passengers until he figures out who the killer is.

There is a lot of overacting in this play which is understandable because these are eccentric characters, but they’re somewhat over the top. Especially Miss ffouliett-foulkes, who insists that her very strange name must be spelled with lowercase letters. She is a ludicrous character played far too broadly as a caricature of a stereotype. Likewise the two bead sellers (Austin Lang and Ben Weaver), whose only reason for being in the story is to add local color. They’re loud and obnoxious.

Overall the acting and Terence Artz’s direction is very good. Johnston is outstanding as Simon Mostyn. His little gestures, such as the way he holds a cigarette and tilts his head, combined with heartfelt emotion, lend individuality and a spark of realism to another stereotypical British type.

Wells captures the spirit and verve of the spoiled girl out for adventure and romance. Broom is believable as the spiteful ex- fiancée . However, both of these leading ladies need to slow down a bit. They speak too quickly with clipped British accents, and it is often hard to understand everything they’re saying.

Shute as the priest turned detective is the only one who doesn’t over act. He enunciates clearly and speaks in a calm voice throughout. He is convincing.

The most notable acting in the play is turned in by Kathryn Philbrook as the saucy French maid. She is very expressive and goes from subservient to flirtatious in the bat of an eyelash. And she handles the French accent well.

The set designed by Kendra Malm is simple but nicely done, with authentic looking 1920s deck chairs, ship’s doors and portholes, and a curtain behind windows that, with the help of lovely lighting by Julia VanDerslice, creates the impression of waves. The costumes by Allison Gerst also are nice, especially the flapper dresses worn by Kay and Jacqueline.

For those who like a good murder mystery, this one is worth seeing.

alec@alecclayton.com

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