Play Review: Murder On the Orient Express
Performance & Theatre
Murder on the Orient Express
Pioneer Theatre Company
Sept. 22—Oct. 7, 2023
Pioneer Theatre Company’s (PTC) Murder on the Orient Express stands as the biggest, most colorful ensemble of characters the theatre has put on to date and is another example of the company’s masterful set design. A light fog drifts down slowly from the rafters, shrouding the stage in mystery., which I found fitting. Adapted to the stage by Ken Ludwig from Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel and directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, Murder on the Orient Express is a hilarious and tender production.
The curtains rise and greeting the audience is the charming Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (John Tufts), narrating the drama of the most high-profile case he’s had in his career. Tufts’ performance is demanding and captivating from the beginning. Act I begins in a small cafe, awaiting the Orient Express train. Monsieur Bouc, Poirot’s longtime friend (Edward Juvier), convinces him to take his cabin in first class. After some short introductions to the lovers, Mary and Samuel (Andrea Morales and Robert Scott Smith), we’re brought to the train station. The cafe backdrop rises and the tables are taken away to reveal two fully moveable, open-side train cars of the Orient Express. I was blown away at the ingenuity and cleverness the set design displayed.
The cast’s performances are too entertaining and rich to fully describe in a single SLUG feature. The audience’s first encounter with the train presents all the varied personalities that will be the center of conflict in the show. Poirot seems to find this eccentric cast suspicious as well, putting us in the detective’s shoes. Michel the Conductor (Alec Ruiz) stands at the platform, waiting to welcome the other guests of the train, seeming like the only truly normal one in attendance! He welcomes Princess Dragomiroff (Bonnie Black) and missionary Greta Ohlsson (Amy Bodnar), who are traveling together purely on the Princess’s wishes. Countess Andrenyi (Gisela Chípe) presents herself as flirtatious and independent, and Poirot seems to be attracted to this. Helen Hubbard (Anne Tolpegin), hailing from Minnesota, brought hilarity and unabashed feminine confidence which was delivered artfully through Tolpegin. Hector MacQueen (Matthew McGloin) and Colonel Arbuthnot (Smith) are the last passengers to board the first class cabin. Smith exhibits his adaptability in bringing two characters to life seamlessly.
The initial set up of these characters provides context to how each person will react to the dramatic turn of events as Poirot described in the primer. The events that unravel on the train begin with the comedic dialogue that transpires from having a cast as large as this one. Their interactions carry scene to scene. From Helen Hubbard’s crassness to the do-gooder nature of Greta the missionary, each actor shines through in their own way. The death of a character leads them down a rabbit hole of lies and deceit, and it becomes apparent that more than one person is lying. But who? All these questions and more are answered by the end of act two, culminating into a final confrontation between Poirot and every passenger on the train.
During this segment in particular, one can see the efforts of the lighting and set design adding depth to the story. When Poirot is recounting events from earlier in the show, each character reenacts these small bits while draped in a haunting, purplish-blue light. The lighting, in addition to the effects, acts like beautiful, painted backdrops of white mountains with snow falling gently. Paired with the timeless acting and comedic but emotional writing, the set design elements shine through.
I was astounded at how funny, moving and entertaining Murder on the Orient Express was, and I consider this the perfect show for the approaching autumn season. –Brittnie Gallegos