Art ReviewsTHEATRE

Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a Standout at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot). Photo by Matt Liptak.

ALEXANDRIA, VA – “Touch nothing!” is the no-nonsense command given by writer Agatha Christie’s über-detective, Hercule Poirot (Michael Kharfen, who inhabits Poirot with an absolutely brilliant performance). A man is found murdered in his stateroom, and everyone’s a suspect. For those who love crime drama and murder mysteries with a soupçon of humor, it’s the first order of business when investigating a fresh crime.

(L – R) Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc), Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi) and Paul Donahoe (Head Waiter/Michel). Photo by Matt Liptak.

Without DNA or CCTV, an old-fashioned detective needed to have mad deductive skills. That said, it’s not only fun to play along with the Belgian gumshoe’s innate ability to seek out liars like a truffle-hunting pig but to try and puzzle it out for ourselves. Even if you’ve seen this dramedy before, you’ll still thrill to its witticisms and this marvelous cast.

Set in the 1930s, ten passengers traveling on the posh Orient Express are under deep suspicion. Who had the motive? Who had the means? Who had a provable alibi? Who was closest to the scene? And who had the most to gain? As clues and red herrings spring up like weeds, Poirot must unravel truth from fiction.

(L – R) Patricia Nicklin (Princess Dragomiroff) and Julia Rudgers (Greta Ohlsson). Photo by Matt Liptak.

With so many suspects on board, who could be the perpetrator? Alibis abound. Was it the Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Patricia Nicklin)– a feisty noble traveling with Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson (Julia Rudgers); Helen Hubbard (Eleanore Tapscott), an American heiress on the hunt for her fourth husband; Michel the conductor (Paul Donahoe), whose uniform button was found beside a body; Scottish Colonel James Arbothnot (John Paul Odle) or his illicit paramour, the English governess Mary Debenham (Danielle Comer); Monsieur Bouc (Brian Lyons-Burke), Poirot’s dear friend, fellow Belgian and director of the Orient Express company Wagon-Lits; the pretty Hungarian doctor, Countess Andrenyi (Briana Goode); or Samuel Ratchett (Paul Caffrey), the rough and tumble American businessman traveling with his secretary, Hector McQueen (Avery Lance). When Ratchett turns up dead in his bed, everyone is questioned as to their whereabouts the night before.

(L – R) Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi) and Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc). Photo by Matt Liptak.

The stunning opening conjured up by Director Stefan Sittig, Lighting Designers Ken and Patti Crowley, Sound Designer Janice Rivera, and Set Designer Matt Liptak sets the perfect tone in the pitch dark of the theatre featuring a realistic-appearing, whistleblowing, Mars light ablaze locomotive roaring onto the stage. Creating an alluring ambiance for intrigue, the full-stage revolving set design features an elegantly furnished dining car for the passengers – insert audible audience’s gasp here – the second reveals a cutaway view of the passengers’ bedrooms. It’s quite dramatic and remarkably effective.

Full Cast (Seated L-R) Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi), Eleanore Tapscott (Helen Hubbard), Patricia Nicklin (Princess Dragomiroff), Julia Rudgers (Greta Ohlsson). (Standing L-R) Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc), Paul Caffrey (Samuel Ratchett), John Paul Odle (Colonel Arbuthnot), Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Danielle Comer (Mary Debenham), Avery Lance (Hector MacQueen) and Paul Donahoe (Head Waiter/Michel). Photo by Matt Liptak.

To all the amateur sleuths out there, I pose this question. Can you name the killer before the dénouement? Alors, mes amis, imagine yourself on a train bound for London in the middle of a blizzard and trapped by a massive snowdrift in the mountains of Yugoslavia with no way out. As Poirot might say, “Bonne chance!”

A clear winner for The Little Theatre!

Adapted by Ken Ludwig; Dialect Coach, Alden Michels; 1930s period Costume Design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley; Fight Choreography by Stefan Sittig; Makeup and Hair Design by Larissa Norris.

Through April 13 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Call the box office at 703 683-5778 for tickets and information or visit

Jordan Wright

Jordan Wright is a noted publisher and writer focused on food, spirits, travel, theatre and lifestyles.  Her writing can also be found on her personal website

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