All Aboard! Get your ticket for Everyman Theatre’s Murder on the Orient Express and enjoy a visually striking whodunnit that is twisty-turny fun for this holiday season. In attendance opening night was celebrated playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo), who was hand-selected by the Agatha Christie estate to write this first stage adaptation of the British writer’s famous page-turner. Both he and Director Vincent Lancisi looked deservedly proud with Everyman’s opulent production of the mystery classic.
Even if you’ve never read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or seen one of its movie adaptations, you’ve seen something based on the seminal conceit: a crime is committed and someone in the train/room/house has dunnit. Each has both a motive and an alibi. As chance would have it, an expert investigator is on hand and puts together the clues to find the culprit. It’s a plot-driven adventure and we’re along for the ride.
While not a spoof like the popular movie genre whodunnits – Clue, Murder by Death, and the current Hollywood offering, Knives Out – Lancisi’s production of Murder on the Orient Express does contain some lovely self-aware humor. It knows it’s an oft-parodied archetype and occasionally winks to let us know it’s in on the joke. The production is also rich with comedically-gifted actors like Resident Company Member Bruce Randolph Nelson, who can bring the house down with the skillful twitch of an eyebrow.
The scenic design for Murder on the Orient Express is as extravagant as the famed passenger train itself. Set Designer Daniel Ettinger’s stage has a lot going on, cleverly utilizing the space to represent the interiors and exteriors of train compartments, hallways, and lounge cars, in addition to a café in Istanbul. Lighting Designer Harold F. Burgess II and Projection Designer Rasean Davonte Johnson enhance the story and keep the action advancing on track. Costume Designer David Burdick completes the visual world with luxe textiles and fashionable 1930s couture. Sound Designer Pornchanok Kanchanabanca, who created a lush soundscape for the play, nods to the cinematic history of the piece with suspenseful tones when clues are discovered.
I feel like it’s redundant to keep saying it, but the Everyman Resident Company is exceptionally talented. And the guest artists they bring in are equally skilled. An unsurprising standout in this production is Bruce Randolph Nelson as Hercule Poirot. He’s haughty and saucy and knows he’s the smartest guy in the room. Nelson is an adept physical actor whose posture, gestures, and expressions as Poirot convey scores more than his lines alone. Danny Gavigan (Colonel Arbuthnot/Samuel Ratchett) and Lilian Oben as Countess Andrenyi also give excellent performances.
Opening night saw some small rough edges like a few inconsistent accents (characters hail from the US, Russia, Britain, Belgium, Hungary, Scotland, Sweden, and France), but I expect those will be smoothed out in the next performance or two. All in all, Everyman Theatre’s production of Murder on the Orient Express offers a luxurious ride all the way from Istanbul to “I know who the killer is.”
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including an intermission.
Murder on the Orient Express plays through January 11, 2020, at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online.
Parking: Available across the street at the Atrium Garage; $11.00 fee.