Agatha Christie fans and those who simply love mystery-thrillers in general will thoroughly enjoy the stage version of her 1934 novel “Murder on the Orient Express,” now playing on the OneAmerica Stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre. A co-production with Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park, I saw the show Friday on opening night.
Those who have not read the book, however, may be familiar with the 2017 film adaptation, with Kenneth Branagh as renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and an all-star cast. Christie’s novel has also been adapted into numerous radio plays, films and TV programs, but the IRT version by Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” and “The Game’s Afoot”) is the first stage adaptation. Christie’s story is inspired by a 1932 trip she took on the grand and opulent Orient Express when it was stranded in Turkey during a mudslide, which happened around the same time as the tragic Lindbergh kidnapping. Combining familiar history, off-center characters, moral dilemmas and a grisly murder, Christie’s tale is a complex and intriguing mystery.
Former IRT associate artistic director Risa Brainin, who previously directed the theatre’s 2017 “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and last season’s “Holmes & Watson,” consummately guided IRT veterans Ryan Artzberger (Colonel Arbuthnot & Samuel Ratchett), Rob Johansen (Michel & Head Waiter) and Aaron Kirby (Hector MacQueen), along with seven new faces, including Andrew May as Hercule Poirot. All accomplished actors, they were skilled at playing their idiosyncractic characters.
As far as individual performances, May exceled as the extremely intelligent, perceptive, instinctual, fastidious and, at times, pompous Poirot. Turning in an appealing performance was Jennifer Joplin as the brash and brassy Helen Hubbard, an actress given to flirting, constant interruption and diversion. Also standing out for the vividness of her characterization was Dale Hodges as the exiled Russian Princess Dragomiroff, who speaks her mind with crusty authority.
Having nearly seen scenic designer Robert M. Koharchik’s entire body of work over the years, his set for “Orient” may well be one of his finest, if not most noteworthy achievements. It is truly remarkable how he managed, with the assistance of his gifted team of artists and craftsmen, to replicate the look and feel of the exquisite Orient Express and how he captured the richness and detail of the train’s luxurious interior. The realistic quality of his creation is astonishing.
Also contributing to the primo caliber of the production’s technical elements are Michael Klaers’s distinctive lighting, Devon Painter’s 30’s period-authentic costumes, L.B. Morse’s projections that include images of the real train’s interior and video footage of it in motion, and last but not least, composer Michael Keck’s pitch-perfect sound design that enhances the play’s action with music that is suitably ominous and foreboding.
For a healthy dose of pure escapism from taxing current events and an entertaining diversion that will test your detective skills, I highly recommend spending the engrossing two hours it takes to discover, among this quirky group, whodunit. Even if you know who the killer is, you will still enjoy the circuitous, thought-provoking ride.
For tickets and information about “Murder on the Orient Express,” which plays through March 29, call 317-635-5252 or visit irtlive.com.