Barbara Amory (Deya Ozburn) and Hercule Poirot (Michael Dresdner) discuss the murder weapon used to kill her father in Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee.” Photo by Dean Lapin.
Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee” is the 2006 & 2007 season opener for the Lakewood Playhouse.
This is one of Christie’s lesser-done works and the only play featuring the incomparable Hercule Poirot. We find ourselves in the library of the English country home of the renowned scientist Sir Claud Amory. In typical Christie fashion, we are introduced to the family, each with his own reason to wish to see the demise of Sir Claud. This, coupled with the disappearance of a secret formula taken from Sir Claud’s safe, makes the obvious victim known moments into the play.
Poirot’s appearance and the twists and turns of the plot are what keep the audience from knowing the identity of the murderer until seconds before the final curtain.
As many of the plays of Christie’s period, this one is very wordy and can become a bit tedious at times. However, I will admit, I was surprised to find the 55 minutes until the first act curtain seemed to speed by. This is partly due to the great amount of comic relief written into the play and partly to the way Director John Munn deftly handled the presentation of the comedic element.
The cast is solid & some are stronger than others. Some have very good accents, some with just a hint; others lack what the American ear would call an accent at all.
Michael Osier is Sir Claud; he is suitably gruff and demanding. Jim Hickman plays the butler Tredwell as staunch and sturdy as required.
Tim Goebel is Richard, Sir Claud’s dutiful son, trapped between his father’s thumb and his Italian/English wife’s desires to live a life of their own. Goebel was last seen at Lakewood in Christie’s “Appointment With Death,” where he played the dutiful son, trapped between his mother’s thumb and his wife’s desires to live a life of their own. But I repeat myself, as does Christie, as does Goebel. The difference is that Goebel does it so very well.
Emilie Rommel is Richard’s wife, Lucia. She looks the part and acts the part. Unfortunately, she is too soft spoken for the somewhat vacuous space at the Playhouse, so some of her words are lost in the first act; she improved during the second.
Joel Nicholas plays Dr. Carelli, her nemesis; he is as sleazy and conniving as any nemesis can be. However, his Italian accent drifts between German and the lower Eastside. Allison Strickman ably plays the part of Raynor, Sir Claud’s assistant. She is lovely to look at and has one of the better English accents.
We briefly see a capable Jim Patrick as Dr. Graham. Christian Doyle plays Inspector Japp. His character is lightly sprinkled with Cockney sort of like a genteel Inspector La Strade.
Grady Hicks must be commended if not for his acting prowess, then for his dedication. As Constable Johnson, Hicks appears three times in the last few minutes of the play, at the edge of the stage speaking three words. However, he is charming in the all too brief role.
The final two women and men in the cast are the highlights of the show.
Deya Ozburn is Barbara Amory, Sir Claud’s vampish daughter. She drinks to excess, flirts with anything in pants and flaunts her attributes about the stage with aplomb. Carol Richmond is her maiden aunt Caroline Amory. Richmond is delightful as the oft times puzzled, sometimes scatter-brained, ever “foot-in-mouth” sister of the deceased lord.
Elliot Weiner is Capt. Arthur Hastings, Poirot’s Watson. He is by far one of the strongest members of the cast. His characterization is down pat, his accent is perfect and his look is grand.
Michael Dresdner is Hercule Poirot. He takes the stage from the moment he enters and never relinquishes it. His portrayal of the genius detective is so perfect and so blatantly subtle one can actually hear “the little gray cells” working.
The set, designed by Erin Chanfrau, is that of a typical English country home, albeit I found the light fixtures juxtaposed on either side of the French doors somewhat out of place. Frances Rankos did a fine job on costuming the production.
I found only one flaw in Munn’s otherwise excellent direction; that being that all of the “usual suspects,” while being questioned, are told to sit in the chair in which the murdered man succumbed. I do believe they would object to this or at least show some sign of repugnance at the thought of occupying the same seat of the dearly departed.
While waiting for curtain, the audience can enjoy the pictorial artistry of Ed Kane. Kane, who also employs paint and sketching, displays some of his photographic work on the Playhouse walls. They are quaintly peaceful with an old world quality.
“Black Coffee” continues through October 1. Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday matinees at 2 with a special Pay-What-You-Can night set for Thursday, September 14. An additional Actor Appreciation performance is scheduled for Thursday, September 28. All profits from that production will be divided among the cast and crew as a special tribute to their tireless efforts to entertain our community.
All in all, “Black Coffee” is truly everyone’s cup of tea! Enjoy it with relish.
For reservations or more information, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.com.
The Lakewood Playhouse is in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit terminal.
Submitted by Lynn Geyer