Some writers seem to have a template that works every time, an idea I'm reminded of whenever I see an Agatha Christie play. From Death on the Nile to The Mousetrap, Christie was a master craftswoman of the murder mystery with a special skill for manipulating its formulaic components so that each of her works remained individual and fresh.
Such is the case with And Then There Were None, based on what is purportedly the bestselling mystery novel of all time. Ten characters convene on an island where, one by one, they meet their fates. By the evening's end, only two remain. The show has three acts and two intermissions, but fear not: The acts are brief, and the pace is quick. Like most of Christie's work, this is tight writing sans fat; we're given just enough.
Director Lara Toner's stylized staging for Austin Playhouse's production wittily highlights the script's subtleties. She's infused the production with a near noir-ish concept that allows each cast member to tread the fine line between sincere characterization and comical archetype. On occasion, it feels as though a musical number might just break out, and it's this sometimes tongue-in-cheek quality that affords the production its special charm.
Toner's direction is supported by a number of especially strong performances. Particularly entertaining is Bernadette Nason's Emily Brent, a curmudgeonly old bat with conspicuous knitting needles in hand. And it's not a spoiler to share that the character of Anthony Marston is among the first to expire, but it's a shame; Stephen Mercantel's take on the role is especially humorous, and we want him to stick around longer. As the cast includes many Playhouse regulars, we're in good company (including that of Producing Artistic Director Don Toner, who makes a brief appearance).
Per usual, Brian and Holly Crowley's scenic design and construction is of top-notch quality, thanks to the help of scenic carpenter Mike Toner. Every detail, from the set's majestic entryway to its perfectly positioned chaise, is, well, dead on.
My primary disappointment with the show is a highly subjective one: the "solution" itself. But even though I may not personally find the ending "to die for," the proceedings still make for a smart, fun evening of good old-fashioned whodunitry that armchair sleuths of all caliber are encouraged to attend.
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