Drury Lane Theatre Presents AND THEN THERE WERE NONE Review—A Classic Thriller Returns for New Fun, A Chicago Best play pick. Through September 1
Ten misfit oddballs find themselves lured to an island under false pretenses. One by one, they fall prey to horrible disasters that are clearly being engineered, prompting infighting and paranoia. And yet, the slayings are so ingenious that it’s impossible not to delight in them, and get more than a little excited to wonder who will be offed next.
Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None has all the makings of psychological horror. It influenced everything from slasher films to Ridley Scott’s Alien, and has been frequently adapted. A 2015 BBC miniseries played up its grim, foreboding atmosphere, emphasizing that it took place less than a month before the outbreak of World War II and that several characters’ backstories relate directly to imperialist atrocities and violent social injustices. But for the theatre, Christie felt that something lighter and funnier was appropriate (she was also writing after World War II started), leading her to do a very different treatment of mostly the same plot. The production now playing at Drury Lane Theatre, directed by Jessica Fisch, is classic dinner theatre entertainment that plays to the Oakbrook institution’s strengths. There are scares and intrigues, secret regrets revealed, and obnoxious interwar era social standards skewered. But in the program note, Fisch advises treating Christie’s intricate plotting as escapism and allows the more sinister themes to hover beneath the surface.
Strangers Stranded Alone Together
The first sign of trouble is that nobody actually knows the history of the house on this island. The manservant, Mr. Rogers (Paul Tavianini), was told one thing he unquestioningly accepted because it painted people he disliked in an unflattering light. An early guest, Captain Lombard (Yousof Sultani), was told something else that appeals more to his fancy, and everybody is under a different impression about the unseen friend-of-a-friend who has invited them. Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers (Jennifer Engstrom) have received all their orders through writing from an employer they have never met; the new secretary, Vera Claythorne (Cher Álvarez) also came in with no idea what to expect and is surprised that she is to be treated as a guest. The eight guests and two servants resolve to have as nice a vacation as they can, but their only contact with the coast is no longer operable. And then they are most outrageously surprised.
Drury Lane Turns Loose an Endearingly Unendearing Cast
And Then There Were None is an ensemble piece, although some of the actors get to stick around a lot longer than others. Christie devotes a few crucial moments to establishing each character, but it’s largely on the actors to communicate as much as they can with very little. Zachary Keller, as the feckless young lush Anthony Marston, accomplishes that with his opening declaration that this party is going to be “wizard!” Though they are basically rats in a cage, the conflict in this story largely comes from watching how they claw at each other, and each actor has a well-honed gift for comedic timing. Most of them also get an opportunity to display a nasty streak, allowing the production to alternate between the darkness of the source material and the comedy of schadenfreude. One standout is Marilyn Dodds Frank as the piously judgmental Ms. Emily Brent, who embodies lingering Victorianism, disapproves of post-Suffragette women, and got big laughs as the cast member the audience was most eager to see offed. Another is the Churchillian Matt DeCaro as Judge Lawrence Wargrave, a natural leader and grandfatherly old Tory with a macabre reputation.
A House of Horrors that Looks Familiar
Scenic designer Andrew Boyce has located the action in then-contemporary Art Deco interiors that Rogers remarks are rather plain, implying that the island house was refurbished for the purpose it is put to in this story. Something that stands out about Fisch’s production, with its opening tableaus and camera cut-away shifts in focus, is that it borrows a lot from reality TV. The opening night audience was effusively vocal in its approval of each gory twist and cutting comment, eager to see who would be eliminated next and how much drama they would cause on their way out. Audience members who were new to the story also got a lot of fun out of debating the killer or killers’ identity and which alliances the characters formed would hold.
Like The Mousetrap, another great Christie play, And Then There Were None can be done with varying degrees of dread, and this one is meant for an amusing summer night or matinee. But that doesn’t mean it won’t capture the audience’s imagination; and for a person familiar with other versions, there’s a fresh angle here to enjoy.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Cher Álvarez (Vera Clayton), Matt DeCaro (Justice Wargrave), Jennifer Engstrom (Mrs. Rogers), Marilyn Dodds Frank (Emily Brent), Casey Hoekstra (Fred Narracott), Paul-Jordan Jansen (William Blore), Zachary Keller (Anthony Marston), David Kortemeier (Doctor Armstrong), Yousof Sultani (Philip Lombard), Paul Tavianini (Thomas Rogers), and Bruce Young (General Mackenzie)
Agatha Christie (playwright), Jessica Fisch (director), Andrew Boyce (scenic design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Driscoll Otto (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design),Claire Moores (wig design), Kate DeVore (dialect coach), Larry Bakeris (production stage manager)
Through September 1
Wednesdays: 1:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 1:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Fridays: 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays: 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sundays: 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Running time is two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
Drury Lane Theatre
100 Drury Lane
$50+, dinner and show packages available
Check for Half-Price Deals from Hot Tix:
For full-priced tickets and ticket availability call 630.530.0111, or Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000 or visit Drury Lane Theatre website.
Photos: Brett Beiner
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
Click here to find more Picture This Post articles by Jacob Davis.