Prepare yourself for a luxury ride, traveling on the sold-out Orient Express. Set in the 1930s and adapted for the stage by Tony-winning playwright Ken Ludwig, this Agatha Christy mystery novel comes to life at the Reno Little Theater. 

Warning: There will be fog, gunshots, screams, and murder. 

“Murder on the Orient Express” opens with the abduction of a child by a large figure of a man. Little Daisy Armstrong is heard screaming as the lights dim. It’s an ominous way to begin the suspenseful ride from Istanbul, Turkey to Calais, France.

Every murder mystery needs a supersleuth and Scott Hernandez delivers as Hercule Poirot, with his fabulous mustache and keen interrogation skills. Local theater fans will quickly note that this play is cast with some of Reno’s most talented thespians. Moira Bengochea is the brash and outspoken Minnesotan, Helen Hubbard, whose demands have an air of privilege and lack decorum. And “Dame” Evonne Kezios plays the elegant and regal Princess Dragomiroff. The remaining characters in first class are a young couple with British accents, Colonel Arbuthnot (Caulder Tempel) and Mary Debenham (Madeline Bennett) exchange mysterious dialogue with demure chemistry. Two Americans — Brian Ault is Hector MacQueen, an anxious man who bustles about the sleazy and vulgar Samuel Ratchett (Bryce Keil). Dragomiroff’s traveling companion is Greta Ohlsson (Libby Bakke), who’s very religious. The sultry and brilliant Countess Andrenvi is played by Deanna Podstawa. The elegant train’s staff includes Constantine Bouc (Jeff Chamberlin), owner of the Orient Express, and Michel the Conductor (Scott Sarni). 

The chemistry amongst the actors is electric. Each actor is melding its character complementary to one another with laughter surrounding the thrill and gravity of the events. None of the actors make a caricature of their roles. You may easily forget, as I did, that this is community theater. With stars such as Bengochea, Kezios, Hernandez, and Sarni, you are in for a treat in which no one steals the stage; it is that well directed by Melissa Taylor.

There is an air of mystery about Act 1. The snowfall thickens outside the train, which Chad Sweet brilliantly conveys through the magic of lighting. The train halts and the dining car becomes a central location for all happenings, especially when a passenger is found murdered in their bed. (I have spoiled nothing by saying this; it is in the title.) 

Now, everyone is a suspect and, of course, everyone is innocent. Sound familiar? 

There are a few plot holes in Ludwig’s trimmed play and few of the book’s characters have been removed. However, these holes do not detract from what is truly stage magic. A simple, effective set with art deco touches expands the audience’s imagination. While I miss the thrust stage previously used by RLT, this set is stunning. The scenes, sounds, and lighting work brilliantly with the play. The costumes are magnificent and on point. 

Do not miss this performance! The play is timelessly funny and mysterious. While my knees hurt from the tight seating and I’m a bit leery of what might happen if there were an emergency, with one exit from the top rows. This play is apropos to our current climate. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Should anyone be allowed justice for convicting the judgment.

If you go:

What:  “Murder on the Orient Express

When: Through Feb. 16

Where: Reno Little Theater,  147 East Pueblo St.

 

Lisa Genasci

Lisa Genasci, theater critic