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Review of "Ten Little Indians"

 

Ten Little Indians' -- Agatha Christie classic provides perfect island escape

 

 

 

By LYN LEGENDRE

Newburyport Daily News, July 17, 2003

 

 

 

 

"Ten Little Indians." By Agatha Christie. Directed by Jack Neary. Featuring Robert Azevedo, Kurt Bergeron, Robin Bornstein, Chuck Galle, Allan Mayo, Jape Payette, Tim Pilleri, Lisa Richardson, Mary Shapiro, and Jim Sicard. Presented by the Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport. Performances Thursdays through Sundays through July 27.

 

"Ten Little Indians," Agatha Christie's cleverly crafted, classic whodunit, is the perfect vehicle for a relatively sophisticated summer escape. Set in the well-appointed living room of an Indian Island retreat, off the coast of Devon, England, the mystery unravels at a brisk pace, captivating onlookers with infinite, creepy possibilities and ever-mounting suspense.

 

When a prerecorded voice accuses 10 island visitors -- three women and seven men -- of murder, with a different scenario and victim for each, an atmosphere of suspicion and tension is quickly established.

 

On the surface, each of the 10 temporary islanders, including two serving people and eight supposed diners, appears capable, charming, or even quite polished. The ladies wear dresses and hats; the gentlemen tend toward suits and ties. And then there are those utterly dignified British cadences. With a general, a doctor, and a judge among the company, the group might even be considered fairly distinguished.

 

Yet it immediately becomes apparent that something is amiss. For one thing, no one really seems to know the absent host or hosts. Although the guests believe they have been invited to the secluded home by an unknown Mr. and Mrs. Owens, even that detail is sketchy.

 

There is mention of a gracious invitation with the name Una Nancy Owen attached. But someone interprets that as U.N. Owen -- or unknown. And then there's that matter of the 10 Indian figures on the mantel. One by one, these figurines diminish in number, and with each subtraction or elimination, another guest meets his or her unexpected, grisly demise.

 

With no telephone or boat available on the island, and the added inconvenience of choppy seas, it becomes evident that this sojourn is something less than a day at the beach. As one nervous guest soon proclaims, "I think the pleasures of living on an island are rather overrated."

 

Of course, there are more twists and turns here than one could easily sum up. And as the increasingly petrified guests surmise, perhaps the culprit is among them. So, should they delve into one another's backgrounds? Should they heed those nasty accusations of murder that the disembodied voice broadcasts over the gramophone? Should they form small alliances or stick together?

 

What about that crusty Emily Brent (Mary Shapiro)? Sure, she appears to be a proper, knitting old matron in support stockings and sensible shoes, but she certainly makes no secret of her opinion of young people as highly impertinent, immodest and immoral. As for Dr. Armstrong (Allan Mayo), although he may be an acclaimed nerve specialist, wasn't he once a surgeon witha drinking problem?

 

And as regards the comely secretary Vera Claythorne (Lisa Richardson), didn't a child in her charge actually drown? Yes, General Mackenzie (Chuck Galle), an emotional widower, may have adored his young wife Leslie, but didn't she have an affair with one of his men?

 

When everyone is suspect, who can one respect? Although the décor is perfectly civilized, even calming, what evil lurks at the center of this colorful assemblage of humanity in a remote location?

 

Susan Sanders' inviting set, a symphony in pale grays and teals, superbly swaddles the show in comfort and urbanity, but that lovely facade only serves to emphasize the underlying message that appearances can be entirely deceptive.

 

Meanwhile, director Jack Neary has clearly encouraged his enchanting cast to imbue this chamber piece with a thorough sense of ensemble. Every role is played with grace and conviction, and the even-handed acting makes each character simultaneously sympathetic and suspect.

 

While potassium cyanide, lethal injections, knives, axes and nooses do come into play here, "Ten Little Indians" still offers good, wholesome escapism. True, the bodies do mount up, but the bulk of the violence occurs offstage, and these articulate Brits are not exactly folks we off-islanders deeply identify with or fully come to know.

 

Thus, it is in the nifty execution of the convoluted plot that the audience finds summer fun and diversion. Then, the return to reality can easily be accomplished by a simple walk along the Port City's beautifully restored, scenic walkway.