Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Murder on the Orient Express

Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Rob's review of Black Comedy and Carla's review of Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies

Dehron Foster and Cast
Photo by Jason Ponic Photography
For the first-ever stage adaption of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, the Christie estate commissioned prolific playwright Ken Ludwig. We've seen a number or his plays in Albuquerque in recent years, including Shakespeare in Hollywood and Moon Over Buffalo. An early Ludwig play, Leading Ladies, is currently on stage at The Adobe Theater. Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted for the big screen in two major releases, one in 1974 and one directed by Kenneth Branagh in 2017. I saw both star-studded films when they came out because, well, it's Agatha Christie, and she perfected the murder mystery.

Christie's mysteries were my palate-cleanser novels between semesters when I was a lit major in college. Murder on the Orient Express was my favorite, since it was one of the few that combined sweet sentiment with the machine-like precision of a murder investigation.

Christie is a master of dropping clues and red herrings throughout her stories. By the time you find out who done it, she has left enough clues for you to yell out, "Of course!"—but not enough clues to make it obvious before the revelation. This is tricky business that is not easily translated into an abbreviated script. A lot of character background has to be dumped on the audience before Hercule Poirot reveals his brilliant deduction and points to the murderer. And it's hard to dump all that data during the two hours of a film or play.

In that condensing, Ludwig reduces the number of suspects from 12 down to eight. Then he adds a bit of comedy, which is pleasant, but it squeezes even more time from the methodical clue droppings. We end up learning some of the necessary details of the characters' potential motives only as Poirot conducts his reveal. That removes some of the expectation from the build-up and much of the drama from the denouement.

Given that awkward storytelling challenge, director Henry Avery has done a fabulous job of presenting the mystery as a colorful spectacle in this Albuquerque Little Theatre production. Avery also designed a beautiful set that alternates between a station platform, a dining car, and sleeping compartments. The set jammed several times on the night I saw the production, which was distracting, but the overall effect is still lovely. The costumes by Joe Moncada are gorgeous. Since the travelers come from a range of backgrounds, the costumes span the mid-to-upper social strata across the 1934 globe.

The gist of the story is that a group of seemingly unrelated travelers find themselves stuck in a snowstorm as they head toward Europe from Istanbul. The train has to wait for a repair crew to free it, but the radio isn't working in the storm, so the repair operation is delayed. That evening, one of the passengers is found stabbed to death in his compartment. Poirot (Dehron Foster) happens to be on the train having just finished up a case in Istanbul, so the train's owner, Monsieur Bouc (Parker Owen), convinces the detective to investigate the murder.

Avery has cast this production well. Foster is just right as Poirot, down to his pitch-perfect accent. Some credit has to go to dialect coach Steve Corona, since each character manages an entirely different accent. While the cast works nicely as an ensemble, standouts include Carolyn Hogan as Princess Dragomiroff, Owen as Bouc, and Abby Van Gerpen as Countess Andrenyi. Given the machinery of a good mystery, the characters are not given much room to move, but even so, all cast members deliver nicely.

Kudos also to ALT's strong and dependable production crew. They constitute quite an army and, under Avery's direction, they always do a great job.

Murder on the Orient Express runs through February 9, 2020, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. There will be a special performance at 7:30 pm on Thursday, February 6. Tickets are $23 for adults, $21 for seniors (65 and above), $19 for students (13 and above), and $15 for children (12 and under). For tickets and information, please visit or call 242-4750.