Theatre Palisades brought Agatha Christie’s lesser-known whodunnit, Black Coffee, to life before a packed Pierson Playhouse Friday night. Set in 1929, Black Coffee, was the first play ever written by Christie.
Christie fans will be familiar with Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who must bring order to all and solve the murder of Sir Claude Amory (Kenneth Steven Bernfield), a rich and disliked inventor whose valuable formula was stolen just before he is poisoned to death.
A quirky and comical Robert Stanley Drake donned a wax moustache to take on the role of Monsieur Hercule Poirot, drawing snickers and laughter from the audience at his convincing performance.
He and Todd Christian Elliott, as Captain Arthur Hastings, packed the dialogue with the show’s best clichés and wit.
Trapped in the eccentric library (beautifully designed by Sherman Wayne), Poirot deducts that undoubtedly, the murder was committed by someone in the room – maybe a suspicious Italian doctor (Lorenzo Bastien) or the peculiar maiden aunt (Susan Hardie).
Suspicions also fall to Lucia Amory, the wife of Amory’s son (Tanya Gorlow and Nick Thompson) a flirty niece, Barbara, who seems too curious to be innocent (Courtney Long), Sir Claude’s quiet secretary (J.W. Cooper) and of course, the help (Anne Chaikowsky).
Poirot carries the show for most its length, joined at the finish by Inspector Japp (Phil Apoian) who sees the finale through in this classic whodunnit.
Although the pace was a little slow in the first act and there was less action in the second act, Drake’s comedic timing and the ability to engage the audience kept the production going.
Among a spread of European accents, the dialogue is well understood and though often cliché, drew many laughs from a captivated audience. The set was one of the season’s best.
The cast is a unanimous strength of talent, with Drake (Hercule Poirot), Thompson (Richard Armory) and Courtney Long (Barbara) particularly standing out.
Black Coffee runs weekends through Oct. 12 at Pierson Playhouse, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20, seniors and students $18. Call (310) 454-1970.
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