THEATER REVIEW: Comfy Christie mystery plays at Theater Barn

And Then There Were None/Theater Barn, New Lebanon

WHAT IS IT about an Agatha Christie play that is so comforting? (It’s a mystery.)

When you arrive at Theater Barn, you find Abe Phelps’ upscale living room set–with all the chairs facing front–serene and comforting. The French doors of the set lead to a porch and a cliff’s edge. They are situated upstage, dead center (if you’ll excuse the expression). The French doors are comforting. They allow for star entrances, one at a time, à la the beautiful Ziegfeld Follies girls—except that several of the personages are wonderful, pear-shaped, grizzled males.

The entrance of John M. Trainor as a brainy, high-verbal judge is particularly comforting, because you sense immediately that you are in good hands. You see that he will deliver intelligence, pristine diction, and zero phoniness. In spite of Christie’s ham-handed treatment of the play’s denouement, Trainor makes it work.

Again, why is a Christie play so comforting? After all, it includes many violent deaths minus the explicit gore, guts, and bone of so many contemporary TV shows. How easy, quick, and clean these deaths are! Yes, that is the best way. And it’s the kind of mystery that has become ritual. What is more comforting than ritual? If occasionally, in Act II, we leap out of our seats, hearts-in-mouth, so much the better.

Even if this is your first time seeing “And Then There Were None,” all the back stories are clear and memorable, thanks to Christie and director Allen E. Phelps.

The soaring incidental music Phelps has chosen is both affectionately tongue-in-cheek and seriously 1930s movie music. More of it would not be too much.

Except for an unflattering red & black skirt assigned to the character of Vera, costumes by Alyssa Couturier are pleasing and character-right, especially a shimmery, sexy dress (also for Vera) and the magenta dress for spinsterish Emily Brent. The men get standard-issue (comforting), mostly upper-middle-class Brit.

In addition to Trainor’s, there are some very satisfying performances. To Rogers (the butler), Dominick Varney brings a welcome hint of Wodehouse along with his understated realism. He benefits from Phelps’ direction of the opening servants’ scene, which nicely sets up Rogers’ later restrained grief.

Sky Vogel’s regret-stricken General is true and touching, as is Shaun Rice’s intensely human, flawed Dr. Armstrong.

Meg Dooley starts a bit uneasily, but climbs to an exciting peak in her Bible-thumping monologue. To watch Dooley walk across stage with her musculature half cast in cement is immediately to understand the character. The actress’ ability to switch from the glamorous, free-wheeling, red-headed housewife of Columbia County last season (Taconic Stage Company) to this rigid spinster is a nice thing to witness.

Skylar Saltz is the young love-interest. How can such ear-abusing sounds emit from such a talented and beautiful woman as Skylar Saltz? She plays Vera, but every role will continue to sound like Born Yesterday until she does something about her voice. Get thee to a voicery, dear lady! A British one perhaps.

One voice is not a deal-breaker. “And Then There Were None,” if not rare, is definitely well-done.

The show runs through July 22.

 

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