By Lauren Katz
J.P. McElyea ’14, the director of last spring’s Fruit: The Musical, brought Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery And Then There Were None to Kenyon.
The play, which Christie adapted from her novel of the same name, tells the story of 10 individuals, all invited to the cabin of a “Mr. Owen” on Indian Island. As the plot unfolds, the guests begin to realize that none of them has actually met Mr. Owen. Not only does he not exist, but each guest was brought to the island to be punished for a supposed murder that he or she committed.
One by one the guests are murdered, and the audience must guess the murderer’s identity as new facts about the characters’ backstories slowly rise to the surface.
The true brilliance of Christie’s writing, however, is in her incorporation of the “10 Little Indians” nursery rhyme. The poem tells of 10 Native American boys who faced tragic deaths, and the murderer in the play used the rhyme as inspiration for his “justice.” The play also gets its title from the song’s final line, “he got married and then there were none.” Each guest was murdered according to the order of the poem, and guests’ knowledge of this “coincidence” only increased the suspense. They all knew how they would die; the only question was when. Christie increased the disturbing mystery by adding 10 small Native American figurines to the established setting. As each guest died, a figurine would mysteriously go missing.
McElyea’s placement of the poem and figurines in his staging successfully added to the performance. The figurines were located on a table center stage, and the poem hung directly above it. The location helped focus the audience’s attention on the nursery rhyme, which highlighted the poem’s significance to the story, and emphasized the idea that everything in this story revolved around those words. McElyea also found a way to cleverly use Weaver Cottage to enhance the production. The small space successfully drew the audience into the production. The intimate feel and close proximity to the performers increased the creepy factor when the room went dark before each murder.
McElyea put Weaver’s staircase and balcony to good use. The extra level allowed for characters to observe the events unfolding in the living room, and learn secrets that they could later use to their advantage. For example, when Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (Nicholas Lehn ’13 and Beth Seeley ’16) discussed their intense disgust for some of the guests, including William H. Blore, they had no idea that Blore (Robert Angell ’13) was eavesdropping on them.
Angell’s reactions to the insults added to the hilarity of the moment, and the idea that anyone could secretly observe the other characters created a mysterious feel.
All of the actors successfully carried the audience from moment to moment, but a few in particular stood out. Lehn and Seeley played off each other well; the banter between the two characters was entertaining, and it added some light touches to a dark plot. Kyle Fisher ’16, with his flashy pink and red ensemble, created a hilariously awkward Anthony Marston, yet also added a dark and creepy side to his character when he showed no remorse after accidentally running over two children.
Noah Detzer ’13, who successfully portrayed the charming ladies’ man, also conveyed great comedic timing through his constant attempts to “relieve the gloom” in the second act with jokes about who would be next to die.
The strongest performance, however, was that of Chris Wilson ’16 as Justice Wargrave. Wilson’s ability to create two completely different characters blew me away. His calmness and rationality throughout the entire play was fascinating, and provided a marked contrast to the other over-the-top characters. When he came back at the end of the play and revealed that he was the killer the whole time, the crazy over-the-top murderer standing before me made his acting ability even more impressive.
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