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DCP's Murder on the Orient Express:

"a stabbing concoction" "a timeless classic" & "a case of thrill, tragedy, and comedy"

By: Riley Mann

Everyone, at one point or another, should most definitely indulge in Agatha Christie's work. Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, the Christie mindset is meticulous and labyrinthine. The ultimate master of the murder mystery genre, the world continues to honor Christie’s extensive legacy through adaptations of her stories both on the screen and on the stage. Arguably her masterwork, The Murder on the Orient Express out lasts the typical murder mystery in terms of plot, aesthetics, and the overtly contrary (but at the same time, complementary) cast of characters.

Bound by unshared experiences of political exile by the likes of the Bolsheviks, forbidden love affairs, and long histories of failed marriages, the passengers of the Orient Express intersect at the city of Istanbul to begin their trek to Western Europe. The motives of these characters, however, seemingly became puzzling to decode, wrapping the viewer in a trap that in some moments feels like a shot in the arm or a stab in the chest.

From the dates June 10-12 and June 16-19, this classic mystery will be making a temporary pitstop on the DCP stage. A Ken Ludwig stage adaptation to the Agatha Christie story, The Murder on the Orient Express still holds the luminescent Christie charm from the novel’s first publication in 1934, with an additive theatrical charm that simply is not prevalent in the simple turning of pages. Rather than setting the stage in the mind, this production gives artists and murder mystery lovers alike a point of sweet synthesis. And who says one can’t be both? Through the humor and the melodrama brought forth by the actors, this Ludwig adaptation offers aid far past one that is just visual: it blueprints a vision brought to life only by the ethic and grit of the performers, the aesthetic validity of the set, and props, the backstage crew, and lighting crew.

The careless and eccentric disposition of Helen Hubbard (played by Maddie Hayes) sheds a sheer layer of unhinged comic relief in the production’s most serious and revealing moments. For Hayes, elegance and humor are certainly not mutually exclusive, for her portrayal of Helen Hubbard caters to the audience’s acquired understanding the typicalities of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. It is a case of thrill, tragedy, and comedy.

The wondrous Detective Poirot (played by Aaron Wexler) is a career man of tremendous ambition, carefully-waned observance, and a marvelous mustache. Once one of Christie’s smallest figments is now every guilty party’s greatest detriment. Wexler embodies the role of the production’s narrator in a perfect mixture of both signature Christie whimsicality and an enchanting pace of classic storytelling.

In an exchange in the light of the fluorescent vanity bulbs of the green room (the night before the very first performance) with a handful of DCP’s most esteemed contributors, I questioned their views on the great return to the limelight since the COVID-19 outbreak, honoring the life and legacy of Agatha Christie, and the Ludwig twist on the monumental piece of fiction.

I asked Elda Kulp (who plays Princess Dragomiroff) what the show means to her personally, after two years of levied social restrictions from the pandemic. She told me transparently, “It’s like the heartbeat of the theatre is back.” I pondered that insightful observation that I failed to put in such a clear-cut and punctual diction myself. As with all art forms that circulate to the creative catharsis we are now seeing in our culture, the reopening of the community theatre is just another moving piece in this new cultural renaissance.

Upon asking Kalie DeSimone (who plays Countess Andrenyi) the same question, she replied most sentimentally, “I am alive again, and I have the only outlet that means anything back to me. My creative outlet, which means so much to me, is back. I never feel more alive when I am on stage, and I never feel more satisfied from driving home from rehearsals. I think what’s cool about this cast is that there is a good number of us.”

In the same exchange, I questioned how the actresses felt about honoring the tradition of Agatha Christie on the stage. Kulp commented (unfortunately not in her usual Russian accent she so richly dictates onstage), “This is a timeless classic, and it feels fabulous to be a part of it. I’m honored to be a part of the cast.” At this point time, she was fixing her wig of curls, exuberantly fit for any princess of such velvet glamor that has been exiled from Russia “since the Bolshevik dogs took over”.

DeSimone’s mind immediately went to the comparative factors of the original publication of the novel and the Ludwig stage adaptation. She observed, “I feel that the adaptation that the [Ludwig] adaptation plays a great tribute to the women of the show. I feel like the women in the original novel were not as highlighted, given the time. I think this is what Agatha Christie would have wanted.”

On the whim of clarity on the distinction between Christie’s original work and the reimagined Ludwig script, I asked Nick Cardillo (who plays Hector MacQueen) about the factors that believed differentiated the two works. Jumping with some sort of literary and theatric joy, he assured me his response would be lengthy and complex. When I had asked him if had read the Murder on the Orient Express, he revealed he had analyzed the novel on several occasions throughout his lifetime.

“I adore Agatha Christie. She’s my favorite writer of all time, with all of her contributions to fiction,” he explained. “When people think of a Christie novel, they immediately think of the puzzle of it. What the play does is delves more into the interpersonal relationships of the train passengers. This is mainly what differentiates the play from the original novel.”

Dutch Country Playhouse’s Murder on the Orient Express (2022) is a stabbing concoction of a myriad of disciplined artists celebrating the grand return of live theatre. Missing this performance would be a sinister mistake in one’s own artistic pursuits.

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