Review: 'And Then There Were None' at the Glendale Centre Theatre
It's cozy, familiar, pleasant
Lydia Woods as "Vera Claythorne"; Thor Edgell as "Philip Lombard"; and Paul Nieman as "Sir Lawrence Wargrave" in the Glendale Centre Theatre's production of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." (Photo by Tim Dietlein / October 26, 2012)
The family ambience of this 430-seat theater-in-the-round, with its cheery red upholstered seats and warm wood paneling, isn't anything new. Dietlein's grandparents founded the theater in 1947 and Dietlein, who runs the operation with his wife Brenda, grew up in it.
It isn't surprising, then, that comfortable, familiar entertainment is a specialty of the house. The theater's current production, Agatha Christie's enormously successful bestseller, “And Then There Were None,” which she adapted for the stage, fits the bill nicely.
Appropriate to the season, if not particularly chilling here, the 1930s-era sleight-of-hand murder mystery is given a pleasant period staging by director Diedra Celeste Miranda, while her capable ensemble of actors does enjoyable justice to Christie's signature suspects: the ingénue and suave adventurer, the retired military officer, disapproving prude, reckless playboy, uncouth police officer, medical man, respected judge and two servants.
Resident costume designer Angela Wood nails each individual look with an array of character-inspired gowns and suits for day and evening.
The plot: Ten strangers, including a cook and butler, arrive for what they believe to be a recreational weekend house party at an estate on a remote island, hosted by a mysterious Mr. U. N. Own. All 10, it turns out, have been suspected of causing a death at some point in their lives. Accusing them via phonograph record of having escaped justice, their unseen host has appointed himself executioner and begins dispatching the guests one by one, using various methods suggested by an antiquated nursery counting rhyme.
It appears that Mr. U.N. Own is nowhere to be found on the island and as the victims continue to meet their gruesome fates, the survivors begin to suspect each other.
Then it's down to the remaining two, then one — or is it? The twist ending will come as a surprise only to those who haven't read the book over its decades of continuous publication, or who haven't caught at least one of its numerous stage and film adaptations.
The actors, with varied backgrounds in stage and screen, make the most of it. While the theater's mostly non-Equity shows often include one or two guest-artist contracts, they are primarily cast from a pool of experienced local talent. Judging by the performances here, a high level of professionalism is a casting requirement.
The ensemble includes Scott Sieffert and Lisa Dyson as married butler and cook, James Betteridge as a nervous nerve specialist named Dr. Armstrong, and Georgan George as prissy spinster Miss Brent. Kyle Kelly is pompous General MacKenzie, Richard Malmos plays hard-nosed Detective Blore, Eric Orman is spoiled playboy Anthony, and Paul Michael Nieman plays urbane Justice Wargrave. Thor Edgell as adventurer/ladies' man Captain Lombard and Lydia Woods as Vera, a pretty young secretary, pair up as the play's romantic interest. Aaron Merken appears in the small role of a deliveryman.
Director Miranda deftly manages the action on the drawing room set so that the actors' backs are not turned to any one section of the audience for more than a few minutes at a time, no small challenge on a relatively small arena stage with a cast this big. Dietlein, who is also responsible for the show's lighting design, helps with a well-furnished set that allows the actors to move with relative naturalness from sofas and chairs, drinks table and window seat as they trade secrets and suspicions as the body count mounts.
Less effective are shouts and screams during dramatic blackouts. These come at a remove that works against sustained suspense; similarly, exits and entrances, made by doors that wing the stage and via a staircase leading up to what is supposed to be the estate entrance, often distract from the tension, rather than enhance it.
Orman's entrance as playboy Anthony sliding down the curving banister, however, is an undeniable crowd-pleaser.
LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about theater and culture for Marquee.
What: “And Then There Were None”
Where: Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; additional Sunday matinees 3 p.m. today and Nov. 4. $20 to $25.
Information: (818) 244-8481, www.glendalecentretheatre.com