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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Deadly Cruise

Theater Reviews

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TheOff The Wall Theatre continues its season with a stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Karl Miller stars as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on a cruise down the Nile River. As such things usually go for Poirot, someone is killed on the cruise and he must discover who the murderer is before the boat can return to shore.

Miller brings an entertainingly dichotomous energy to the role of Agatha Christie’s beloved character. He’s both earnestly humble and slyly arrogant, with a dramatic edge driven by comic timing. In Miller’s hands Poirot is every bit as interesting as he should be, but there are a number of other characters who aren’t nearly as interesting. This is complicated in the Off The Wall production by the fact that few in the cast manage terribly authentic performances. In a mix of strained accents, David Roper’s authentic British voice sounds refreshingly genuine. His performance as British Colonel Race appears almost effortless.

Liz Mistele’s performance is one of the great pleasures of this production. Mistele plays Jacqueline de Bellfort—a woman driven by jealousy over losing romantic interest Simon Doyle (Jeremy C. Welter) to a wealthy socialite charmingly played by Kristin Pagenkopf. Mistele’s eminently magnetic presence draws a significant amount of attention away from the production’s many flaws. Far from a subtle performance, the stage lights seem to follow her even when the plot endeavors to draw them in different directions. Relatively early on Mistele walks onstage in a flashy red dress that is such a complete contrast to what everyone else is wearing that she may as well be carrying a flashing neon sign that says “femme fatale.” That being said, this is an overly melodramatic piece of genre fiction from 1937, so playing it straight wouldn’t quite do the story justice. While there seems to be genuine emotion in Mistele’s performance, she tastefully carries the character’s emotions far enough over the top to carve out a truly memorable performance.

While Death on The Nile met with considerable acclaim when it was first published, the mystery genre has moved along quite a bit in the past few decades. Dale Gutzman’s adaptation telegraphs the ending relatively early on for anyone paying close enough attention. The production is fun enough to outmaneuver the plot, but not by much. Death on the Nile closes April 13.
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