SHAWANO, Wis. (WFRV) – Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” has been performed many, many times in many, many ways since it was first done almost 80 years ago. And now there is the approach of Box in the Wood Theatre Guild.

The mystery classic is being performed with the audience on three sides. In essence, director Sue Kluge and creative colleagues have created on the concrete floor in Mielke Arts Center a thrust stage – a performance space that “thrusts” into the audience.

The community theater troupe has used the space differently in each of its recent productions. For “And Then There Were None,” the cast is called on for added inventiveness when delivering lines. The players are on the move, speaking from different places so varying sections of the audience can hear what’s said. Their sound is au naturale – with no amplification.

The effect means the cast members are involved in extra ways as they shape their characters in a story that is proven to involve audiences:

Ten people are lured to a remote island. What seems to them to be a fascinating invitation suddenly turns. The guests and serving staff hear a voice accusing each of them – by name, in front of strangers – of homicide or being responsible for the death of others. Each will pay the price, they are warned… now being noted in a poem printed in a display above a mantel containing 10 toy soldiers. And then one guest dies suddenly in plain sight. One toy soldier vanishes. Accusations fly… and the guests drop off like so many flies from insect spray.

Action is mostly verbal. Characters first vent about their suspicions that, eventually, find everybody as the culprit in the death of Anthony Marston (Marcus Whitehouse), a cocky reckless driver who felt he was blameless in the deaths of two children.

Also in the war of minds and allegations and denials and speculations and plain ol’ grasping at straws are:

A sharp-minded personal assistant (Madeline Stuewer) and the disciplined military type attracted to her (Jacob Grignon), an aging general (David Woosecraft), a compulsive liar (Preston McKinnies), a moralist about others’ faults (Sabrina Demaski), an all-knowing jurist (Matthew Pfantz), a recovering alcoholic doctor (Taylor Pederson), the maid (Samantha Grassen), and, for the thought of “the butler did it,” the butler (Peter Kluge).

Cast: From left, David Woosencraft, Taylor Pederson, Preston McKinnies, Samantha Grassen, Marcus Whitehouse, Madeline Stuewer, Peter Kluge, Sabrina Demaski, Jacob Grignon and Matthew Pfantz.

The cast sticks together like glue. The story moves along methodically, as players one after another roll out snappy scenes. A prime example is Jacob Grignon as a precise soldier going toe-to-toe in heated exchanges with Preston McKinnies as the silver-tongued liar.

Solidly creating a character is David Woosencraft as snooty General Mackenzie, with a slow, methodical, gravelly delivery holding attention.

The cast sets off the aura of one for all and all for one – community theater clicking.

This and that:

+ Even though the story is set in England, accents are dispensed with.

+ Most of the players portray characters older than they.

+ Music that opens the acts is a kind of haunting, small-combo jazz.

+ Sound effects work – seagulls (for the island setting), ship horns (for the surrounding sea) and thunder (for a couple of dark and stormy nights).

+ Most of the characters smoke (a cigar, cigarettes, a pipe). Most of the time, the smoking is make-believe. Still, it’s interesting how the use of tobacco in 1943 was much more common than today.

+ Also interesting are how Agatha Christie continues to hold attention and how people who like to act like to try on her oh-so human – flawed and/or shady – people who populate her stories.

***

Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Sept. 23, 24; 2 p.m. Sept. 25

Info: shawanoarts.org.

Note: The bridge on Airport Road is closed for construction. If arriving from the south, follow detour signs for HHH.

Creative: Playwright – Agatha Christie; director – Sue Kluge; set design – Jillian Black; set construction – Jillian Black and cast members; sound and lights – Lyliannah Sturm, Peter Kluge, Marcus Whitehouse; set and light design consultation – Alex Konen

Cast (in order of appearance):

Narracott – Marcus Whitehouse

Mrs. Rogers – Samantha Grassen

Rogers – Peter Kluge

Philip Lombard – Jacob Grignon

Vera Claythorne – Madeline Stuewer

Anthony Marston – Marcus Whitehouse

William Blore – Preston McKinnies

General Mackenzie – David Woosencraft

Emily Brent – Sabrina Demaski

Sir Lawrence Wargrave –Matthew Pfantz

Dr. Armstrong – Taylor Pederson

***

Mielke Pond, 9.18.2022. (Warren Gerds)

THE VENUE: The Mielke Arts Center was dedicated as the Mielke Theatre on Feb. 9, 1976, in the 24-acre Mielke Park on Airport Road north of Shawano in the Town of Westcott. The park includes a picturesque pond adjacent to the parking lot. The building was renamed in 1994. The Shawano County Arts Council maintains and operates the center. The theater is of the “black box” type – unadorned (cinder block walls, painted black, and cement floor, painted gray) and adaptable to the needs of a specific production. Box in the Wood Theatre Guild productions often shift from position to position in the performance space. For “And Then There Were None,” the audience is seated on three sides of the performance space. Seating for approximately 80 persons is on the floor level to the left and right of the players and on three levels in front of the performance space. The production booth is up and to the right of the players facing outward. This production is another example of how use of the space is flexible.

THE EAGLES, AN UPDATE: For years, bald eagles have nested within clear sight of theater entrance on the east side of the building, up in a towering pine tree. The eagles often have perched majestically in their aerie as playgoers come and go. Mary Madsen, troupe president, reports a storm this spring (2022) torn down the huge nest. However, the eagles rebuilt the nest and had young, Mary Madsen says. The unique feature of Mielke Arts Center continues: Not many theaters anyplace have a home of bald eagles outside their door in plain sight.

THE PEOPLE: The Mielke Family Foundation was established in 1963 by Dr. Edward F. Mielke and his wife, Beulah (Bee), together with sisters Ruth and Sarah Mielke. A native of Shawano, Dr. Mielke practiced medicine in Appleton for 60 years. Ruth Mielke presided over the library at Appleton West High School for 40 years. Sarah Mielke taught advanced mathematics at Shawano High School.