Review: And Then There Were None (OpenStage Theatre)

Photo by Joe Hovorka for OpenStage Theatre

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None opens with ten strangers gathering on the remote Soldier Island, each having been invited under vague pretenses. Upon arrival, they find that their hosts — whom no one seems to have actually met — have not yet turned up.

The guests settle in for what seems like a casual dinner party, until an ominous recorded message interrupts and accuses each guest of murder. Gradually, the group realizes each is in grave danger and scrambles to figure out who amongst them is picking off the accused one by one, seemingly using a dark nursery rhyme as inspiration for each kill.

And Then There Were None was my second opportunity to see what OpenStage Theatre can do. As with The Crucible, it seems what they can do is build a solid local cast that gives many Equity theaters a run for their money. Two favorite performances of mine: Jessica Emerling Crow as the dowdy and pearl-clutching Emily Brent, and Brikai Cordova‘s plucky secretary Vera Claythorne. Grant Putney‘s lighting design is solid — I love to see a space react when a single candle is snuffed out — as is the 1940s scenic design by James Brookman.

What OpenStage can’t do, perhaps, is force energy into a long-winded and character-stuffed script. As suggested in the production photo above, And Then There Were None involves ten main characters who mainly inhabit a standard living room. The guests do a great deal of explaining, ruminating, waiting, accusing… and sitting. Or leaning. Or crossing the room for a drink… and crossing back to sit or lean. I found myself hungry for moments of action, which are too few in a play requiring two intermissions.

It is true that the energy picks up as the guests are picked off, allowing a bit of elbow room for the survivors. However, even the final scenes are heavy on exposition instead of epiphany, including an explanatory monologue that the actor (unnamed here so as not to ruin the reveal) lightly tripped through, further muddying what I was hoping would be an explosive and satisfying finale. (I know whodunnit. I still don’t completely understand whydunnit.)

A murder mystery can be a dazzling piece of theater, and OpenStage has put its best foot forward. However, And Then There Were None feels too heavy to be a romp, to thin to be a revelation.

 

Erica Reid is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association

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