Reprising roles from their earlier cozy Poirot mystery play in November, the Open Stage cast reunites to solve not one – but two – murders alongside Agatha Christie’s smuggest detective, Hercule Poirot.
Although you may recognize some of the gags as hearkening back to previous crafty slapstick, the second play presents a more intimate and poignant look at the cast and their process. Open Stage invites the audience into their world while still keeping us at a safe distance via video. If you saw the first play, you’ll be relieved to know that the second one stands alone in its own right. And if you didn’t see the first play, don’t worry. You won’t be lost.
Before the play proper begins, we voyeuristically follow Poirot (Director Stuart Landon) inside the communal dressing room, observing his rituals of shaving, applying his character’s signature Pringles mustache, then donning his tuxedo and bowler hat. Then he joins the rest of the cast arranging the stage props.
We also climb into another “backstage” of sorts, inside the mind of the story’s author herself. Agatha Christie (Rachel Landon) recounts how much she grew to loathe “that blasted Belgian” she created, describing the process of writing him so often as a “long marriage between Hercule and I.” Christie quipped, “If you place your head in a lion’s mouth, you cannot complain one day if he happens to bite it off.”
Storytelling through characters we love to hate is a device that works with Poirot. As Landon slips into character, Poirot presents as even more awkward, smug and finicky than the first go-round, yet holding his tongue in cheek throughout. The action of the play is mostly narrative, told through Poirot’s sidekick, Capt. Arthur Hastings (Chris Gibson), who serves as the target of Poirot’s constant corrections and outlet for gloating.
The structure of the play is melodramatic, obvious and delightfully absurd in the telling. Much like Christie’s writing style, her formula employs colorful characters of various nationalities and royal lineages functioning as caricatures of themselves. Rachel Landon and Benny Benamati once again prove their quick-change skills in playing a host of quirky people.
A special round of applause to Benamati for playing Cronshaw, a ridiculous-looking chap whose lines were written all in alliteration. When every keyword in the sentence began with the letter “H,” I worried something would spring from the back of their throat, but Benny made it through the lines with poise.
The murder suspects are members of a troupe who perform commedia dell’arte, showcasing a cavalcade of gorgeous and appropriately strange harlequin costumes and plague masks, much like a nighttime New Orleans parade (costumes by Rachel Landon). The play within a play adds to the eccentricity of the murder “Affair at Victory Ball,” so dubbed by the newspapers of the day.
In the midst of analyzing conclusive, case-cracking details unimportant to his cast-mates before bringing everyone together for the big reveal, Poirot doesn’t miss a single tea sandwich ritual, politely chewing while side-eyeing his guests who clink their ice in their glasses and dig into Poirot’s candy dish with no trace of subtlety.
A hearty “well done” to the entire cast for bringing new and amusing jokes to a familiar character. And even the segments that weren’t perfect later contributed to a hilarious blooper reel that the cast was generous, vulnerable and brave enough to share.
“Poirot Investigates!” runs through April 18. For a link to tickets for viewing on YouTube, visit www.openstagehbg.com. During this financially difficult time, please consider sending an additional tax-deductible donation.
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