REVIEW: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
at the Arvada Center

by Owen Niland

“How’s the mustache?” That is the first question that pops into my mind when I consider a production of an Agatha Christie play featuring the renowned detective Hercule Poirot. Christie herself describes it as “the finest moustache in England.” Christie, never a fan of adaptations of her work to the stage or screen, did begrudgingly acknowledge the quality of the star-studded 1974 film adaptation of Orient Express, noting however that she found Albert Finney’s take on the famed mustache disappointingly pedestrian.

So, how is the mustache in The Arvada Center Black Box Repertoire Theater’s production? In a word: Elegant. Arvada’s ‘stache, like the production itself, is an understated affair, polished, poised, and in full possession of its faculties.

Director Geoffrey Kent has assembled a tight ensemble of Denver actors to premier the Arvada Center’s the newly renovated Black Box Theater, and he uses the flexibility of the space thoughtfully and economically. A real delight of the production is the intricate  choreography of each scene change. The exactitude and synchronicity of the movements combined with the geometric patterns created by the actors and set pieces as they move across the stage bring a style to the production worthy of the Art Deco aesthetic often associated with Christie’s works. The scenic design by Brian Mallgrave seamlessly interacts with Shannon McKinney’s lighting design and Jason Ducat’s sound design to create an environment which transports the audience into Christie’s story.

Actor Kevin Rich brings a charming continental flair to his Poirot, as both detective and narrator he is the audience’s touchstone around which Christie’s motley crew of suspects and victims gather. Although the ensemble cast is among the strongest I’ve seen on a Denver stage, it is the actresses portraying the women of Christie’s work who truly capture your attention. Jessica Austgen’s deceptively fragile Mary Debenham; Emily Van Fleet’s devout Greta Ohlsson; Kate Gleason’s brassy & bold Helen Hubbard; Edith Weiss’s regal Princess Dragomiroff; and Annie Barbour’s beautifully mysterious Countess Andrenyi each shine in their own particular manner on the stage. I was particularly impressed by these actresses’ fully realized characters, none of which drifted into archetype.

Kevin Copenhaver’s costume design and Diana Ben-Kiki’s wig and makeup design create a style for each character that is period-perfect, detailed and beautiful, but not distracting from the performances or story. Also commendable is the work by dialect coach Jeffrey Parker; never did the characters’ many accents overwhelm my ear. On stage, often the best accents are the ones you don’t notice.

Arvada Center’s Black Box Repertory Company has brought together a wonderfully immersive production which is, like Christie’s work itself, a balancing act between the simple and the complex. The attention to detail in the design, the unique staging and robust  performances make a journey on Arvada’s Orient Express a delight for anyone familiar with the classic mystery and those experiencing it
for the first time. This mustache is LEGIT!

 

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