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Idaho Shakespeare opens its 40th with a chilling tale of murder

The guests become more anxious as they realize they’re stranded with a murderer on the loose in Idaho Shakespeare Festival 2016 season opener Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
The guests become more anxious as they realize they’re stranded with a murderer on the loose in Idaho Shakespeare Festival 2016 season opener Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” kjones@idahostatesman.com

Who dunnit? Who cares. Just enjoy the delicious, witty, thrill-ride of Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s season opener, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”

Of course everyone cares, considering the nearly sold-out opening night audience’s conversations during the two intermissions.

Theories abounded and that’s the fun of it. (By the way, these shows are difficult to review because no one really likes spoilers, so I’ll do my best to give you the scoop and without blowing the ending.)

Most people know the story: A mysterious and anonymous host lures 10 people to a remote island off the English coast, only to accuse each of a murder from their past. To make them pay for their “crimes,” the host then kills them one by one in the fashion of the creepy old children’s rhyme “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” Soon it becomes clear that the fiend is among them and terror and mayhem ensues. As their numbers dwindle the tension mounts, and that’s when things really get fun.

This is old-fashioned, popcorn suspense (that’s a page turner for you literary types). Yet, knowing the story doesn’t spoil the fun of watching it unfold through Charles Fee’s skillful direction — and misdirection, as he and his excellent cast provide a litany of likely culprits through some subtle staging.

This show exemplifies the kind of tight, taut ensemble work ISF does so well. This group of actors, a mix of the usual suspects of longtime ISF company members and a couple of notable additions, runs like a well-oiled machine, with excellent performances by all.

Laura Welsh Berg and Nick Steen play the romantic couple at the center of the mystery, Vera Claythorn, the beguiling personal secretary, and Philip Lombard, an ex-military man turned dashing adventurer. They get the happy ending in the original 1943 play, but not so much in this production, which turns to a newly adapted ending that returns the play to Christie’s intended end and mirrors the book.

Berg gives a driving performance, as the seemingly least guilty of the bunch. She carries it through to her end as she plays every note of emotional range — from flirtation to desperation — beautifully.

Steen is completely compelling and charming as the action hero of the group who is hoisted by his own ego.

David Anthony Smith — wearing a fat suit for role of William Blore, the former Cockney cop masquerading as a South African businessman — provides the much-needed comic moments with his penchant for the well-punctuated delivery, as does newcomer Dan Morrison as blatantly brash Anthony Marston. He’s flip and funny to the end.

Tom Ford plays the intellectual Sir Lawrence Wargrave, a noted criminal judge who perhaps sentenced more than a few innocents to death. He gives a wonderfully well-measured performance that crescendos into a fevered psychological pitch.

Dougfred Miller goes from confident control to emotional breakdown as Dr. Armstrong, the “nerves” specialist who loses his. William Langen, a veteran of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, plays General Mackenzie and gives him a haunted woefulness that makes him a more tragic figure.

Laura Perrotta is defiantly unrepentant as the Bible-thumping Emily Brent, who is filled with righteous indignation and hellfire.

And finally, M. A. Taylor as Rogers and Maggie Kettering as Mrs. Rogers, the servants hired to run the proceedings, set the tone of foreboding nicely, along with the 11th cast member, Andrew Miller as Fred Narracott, the delivery man who never returns (chances are he’s been offed, as well).

Russell Matheny’s elegant 1930s deco-esque set offers an opulent backdrop for the action, under Rick Martin’s varied lighting design that adds depth, especially in the scenes after the power goes out. That’s difficult to pull off outdoors, but something Martin has become an expert at in the amphitheater.

Joe Court’s sound design makes the atmosphere even more treacherous, with eerie seagulls squeaking, crashing waves and increasingly ominous claps of thunder. Kim Krumm-Sorenson’s sophisticated 1930s costuming completes the picture.

Christie’s writing is ingeniously clever and when it’s all said and done there is a car ride home full of ah-has and conversations about the plot.

“Ten Little Soldier Boys”

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys traveling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive; A bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law; One got into chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were None.

“And Then There Were None”

8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, with 7:30 p.m. Greenshow mini-concert Wednesdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays (no Greenshow), June 14-15, 18, 24, July 5-6, 9-10, 12, 14-15, 21-22, 30-31, ISF Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. $35-$45 Fridays and Saturdays, $27-$37 Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays. $20 students with ID Any night. Season tickets available at the box office: 336-9221 and IdahoShakespeare.org.

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