iTheatre Saratoga’s World Premiere of Agatha Christie Chestnut is a Killer
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first Agatha Christie book published by William Collins in 1926, which became HarperCollins. They remain the publishers of Christie’s works today. The book has seen several stage iterations over the years. The latest is the world premiere work currently produced by iTheatre Saratoga as adapted by area playwright and actor Mary Jane Hansen. This is Hansen’s fourth Christie adaptation to the stage.
Ackroyd is typical Christie; it is the third time readers have been introduced to her iconic detective, Hercule Poirot, and breaks many of the traditional rules of murder mystery writing. Hansen does a fine job of making the characters come to life. The play is a mix of intrigue, suspicion, liars and those skirting the truth in order to cast dispersion on anyone else in order to bolster their own innocence. In typical Christie fashion, Hansen has liberally sprinkled the show with humor. The play is presented in three acts, and that may well be the one flaw of the show. There is quite a bit of character shaping and a large cast of characters to juggle. The show takes its time to make the connections with the characters, and it takes even longer for the audience to fully figure out what is going on. The play’s running time with two intermissions was just about 3 hours. A dramaturg may have helped to trim some of the extraneous dialogue and exposition.
The show is being performed at the Saratoga City Music Hall on the third floor of the recently renovated City Hall building. Despite the attractively renovated surroundings, the large room and odd sound system are, unfortunately, more of a distraction. The space is somewhat baronial; in this instance, it comes off as more barn-like; the audience is seated so far from the stage that they feel almost disengaged from the performance. Foot mikes along the edge of the stage amplify the cast’s feet, tromping around the stage as much as their voices.
Always a delight to see returning to the stage is Sky Vogel as Ackroyd, an obviously pivotal role, but regrettably, we get to see too little of him on the stage. Hansen returns to the footlights as Dr. Shepard, the town physician around whom the play revolves. Hansen maintains a stoic yet caring nature that melts through her physician’s less than warm, caring facade. Her elder sister, Caroline, the town gossip, is masterfully crafted by Anny DeGange. DeGange’s straight-laced sincere comedic timing is the perfect foil for the apparently humorless doctor.
Johnny Martinez has mastered much of the iconic Detective Poirot’s personality and affect. His accent never waivers; his ever present walking stick helps to build a character that combines the best that Christie created. You can see Martinez’s wheels turning in his head as his character formulates the bits and pieces of clues until his ultimate resolution. One may even see where the television sleuth Columbo was modeled after.
Director Will Severin does double duty, adding sound and music design to his prodigious list of titles for this production. Severin manages to get the most out of his large cast, building the tension with his performers to a, in typical Christie fashion, shocking crescendo at the play’s denouement. He manages smooth scene transitions with Amy Nichol’s charming set design. Amy DeGange’s costume design evokes a period of a time since past. Her focus was on costuming the female members of the cast, and sometimes, it feels as if the men, with the exception of Poirot, were given short shrift.
Overall, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an enjoyable, albeit long evening. For those Christie fans, it will be an exciting opportunity to see a new version of an old chestnut.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd plays through November 5 at the Saratoga City Music Hall at City Hall on Broadway, Saratoga Springs. For tickets, visit www.itheatresaratoga.org . Or call 518-587-5827.