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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Peninsula Players taps Agatha Christie appeal

“And Then There Were None” is a corker.

PHOTO: The cast for Peninsula Players Theatre’s production of “And Then There Were None” consists of, from left, Mark Moede, Dale Benson, Sean Grennan, Sean Fortunato (sitting), Tim Monsion, Joel Hatch, Carol Kuykendall, Matt Holzfeind, Tom Mula, Kristine Thatcher (sitting) and Erica Elam. Bruce Mielke photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Attach the name Agatha Christie to a play, and certain expectations follow. All factor into the frisky (4½ stars out of 5) Peninsula Players Theatre production of “And Then There Were None” playing through July 27. Info: www.peninsulaplayers.com.

- Murder. This play starts with 11 characters. Three are standing at the end, or at least two that we're sure of.

- Mystery. Agatha Christie will create a complex puzzle. You likely will put wrong pieces together along the way, but the puzzle will be solved.

- Period. “And Then There Were None” arrived in 1939. It’s still there. You get to see clothing of the period. Importantly for the story to stand up, in 1939 there are no cell phones.

- Exotic place: This time, we’re on a remote island off the coast of England. Some action takes place on a dark and stormy night.

- British: The characters have accents/dialects, from the sounds of the gruff workaday to the stiff upper lip.

- Odd situation: The only people on the island for this play are the characters who have come together upon the invitation of the vague Mr. Owen, who is heard but not seen. On a phonograph recording, each is accused of murder.

- Colorful characters: Agatha Christie creates types, all the better for you to quickly develop an opinion as you mentally put together a list of suspects as a diabolical plot presents itself. Among others, director Linda Fortunato and her cast of able professionals present us with a care-free, care-less playboy; an adventure/danger-seeking soldier; a conscientious medical doctor; an officious judge; a haughty, heartless snob woman who builds herself a blameless life; a blustery detective; a doddering old general who is waiting to see his deceased wife again; and a secretary who attracts men.

- Foolproof plot: It takes a while to set up all the intricacies, and it seems Agatha Christie comes up with an answer for everything as she serves up her menu of red herrings.

***

Creative: Playwright – Agatha Christie; Director – Linda Fortunato; scenic designer – Jack Magaw; costume designer – Karin Simonson Kopischke; lighting designer – Emil Boulos; sound designer – Mikhail Fikel; production stage manager – Deya Friedman; properties designer – Sarah E. Ross; production manager – Sarah Burnham; scenic artists – Christine Bolles, Kaitlin Younger.

Cast (in order of appearance): Rogers – Tom Mula; Mrs. Rogers – Carol Kuykendall; Fred Narracott – Mark Moede; Vera Claythorne – Erica Elam; Philip Lombard – Matt Holzfeind; Anthony Marston – Sean Fortunato; William Blore – Joel Hatch; General MacKenzie – Dale Benson; Emily Brent – Kristine Thatcher; Sir Lawrence Wargrave – Tim Monsion; Dr. Armstrong – Sean Grennan.

***

For this production, artistic director Greg Vinkler says he has chosen to use wireless headsets to amplify the actors so the audience can better understand the dialects. Normally, the Peninsula Players troupe doesn’t use amplification except with musicals.

Other enhancements are more visible. Jack Magaw’s set includes hardwood flooring (or the illusion thereof) and a spacious room in an upper-crust mansion with angled crown molding and geometric designs in window woodwork that bespeak bundles of money. The aura of wealth runs through the costumes designed by Karin Simonson Kopischke. Flair – somewhat dandy, somewhat daring – is found in the playboy and the soldier. The secretary has touches of holiday wear. The judge and the general are tailored to the T. Footwear is of the quality that ordinary souls (soles) can’t touch.

The production, in performance and look, fits together nicely. It’s remarkable that in the theater’s 79 years, it somehow let “And Then There Were None” slip by until this production. Agatha Christie is served well, and, judging by opening night’s full house, her appeal continues.

Of note, Greg Vinkler’s pre-show introductory remarks on opening night included a tip of the hat to company technical director Scott Boyle and the entourage who struck the previous production (cleared the stage and theater of everything related to it) and worked “around the clock” to get “And Then There Were None” ready in two days. The effort is one of the ongoing tricky parts of making Peninsula Players Theatre work.

RELATED EVENTS: Post-show discussion, July 15; pre-show seminar, 6:30 p.m. July 22 in the theater with Christopher Chan, an Agatha Christie expert.

REST OF SEASON: “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful” by Charles Ludlam, July 30-Aug. 17; “Butler” by Richard Strand, Aug. 20-31; “Always… Patsy Cline” by Ted Swindley, Sept. 3-Oct. 19.

THE VENUE: The location is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas. The modern Continues through July 6; Info: www.peninsulaplayers.com.

621-seat Peninsula Players Theatre features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wood slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 79 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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