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The Weir at TriState
Tower of Babble at Bank Street
The Importance of Being Earnest at Holmdel
Zoo Story at Black Box
And Then There Were None at Shadowlawn
Butterflies are Free at Shadowlawn
Bus Stop at Monmouth Players
Diary of Anne Frank at TriState
A Life in the Theater at Two River



Monmouth U. offers up a Christie "twister"
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 07/21/06

"If there's one thing I won't stand for, it's murder," deadpans Capt. Philip Lombard (played by Bill Timoney), a pistol-packing, brandy-snifting "adventurer" in a double-breasted lounging jacket.

That such a character exists let alone plays it with a relatively straight face could mean only one thing: We're in Agatha Christie territory, courtesy of Monmouth University and its current revival of the classic thriller "And Then There Were None."

The third and final entry in the West Long Branch school's 2006 series of Shadow Lawn Summer Stage offerings, this engagingly familiar ensemble exercise in Murder Most Foul assembles a considerable cast of Actor's Equity professionals (and game semipros) for a textbook study in British "old dark house" suspense.

Adapted by Christie from her 1939 novel known also as "Ten Little Indians," "And Then There Were None" strands eight invitees (including the aforementioned adventurer, his secretary, a judge, a surgeon, a policeman, a retired general, a pious spinster and a debauched playboy) and two servants in an isolated mansion that's nestled amid the rocky cliffs of a desolate island. It's a place without a phone, a boat, or even an apparent owner.

After dispensing with the excruciatingly dull introductions, the play lurches into gear when the assembled guests are forced to listen to a recording of the mysterious "Mr. Owen," who outlines the real reason for their being summoned to the estate each of them is somehow responsible for having caused the death of some innocent person, and, as becomes immediately evident, each is fated to perish in a manner conforming to an old nursery rhyme that hangs above the fireplace.

While the early scenes fall victim to the Christie curse of having too many characters sitting about the sitting room discussing their beastly plight, things really begin to pick up as the population starts to thin out. By the time the lights go out and the night air is pierced by the sounds of screams and gunshots, it's entirely possible that this sincerely staged Christie "twister" will draw you willingly into its coils.

A well-known lighting designer in local stage circles, director George Hansel has particular fun with the tense, "candlelit" sequences that occur during a coastal storm, some pleasingly suspenseful interludes that make the most of the university's coolly creepy (and historically haunted) Lauren K. Woods Theatre. The cast of 11 actors is shuttled on and off stage by any means available, and Fred Del Guercio's parlor-and-terrace set utilizes the layout of the West Long Branch playhouse to good advantage.

As for the question of who done it, well, who cares all assembled are having a spot of murderous fun on their blood-spattered island getaway. Character ace/voice artist Bill Timoney and Briana Trautman-Maier (co-star of this summer's "Butterflies Are Free") score as Capt. Lombard and secretary Vera, with Ed Schiff following up his recent turn in "Da" as the ruddy-faced General Mackenzie, and Shore stalwart David Volin bringing his patented edge to the role of Judge Wargrave.

Brendan Ryan and Linda Cameron also have accomplished the not inconsiderable feat of rehearsing and appearing in all three of producer John Burke's Shadow Lawn productions this season.

Bob Senkewicz / Howell, New Jersey /