Stages

Review: And Then There Were None Brings Bloody Murder to Drury Lane Theatre

The ensemble. Photo courtesy Drury Lane Theatre.

And Then There Were None tells the story of ten strangers—Vera Clayton (Cher Alvarez), Justice Wargrave (Matt DeCaro), Mrs. Rogers (Jennifer Engstrom), Emily Brent (Marilyn Dodds Frank), Fred Narracott (Casey Hoekstra), William Blore (Paul-Jordan Jansen), Anthony Marston (Zachary Keller), Doctor Armstrong (David Kortemeier), Philip Lombard (Yousof Sultani), Thomas Rogers (Paul Tavianini), and General Mackenzie (Bruce Young)—who have all been invited to a private event under one pretense or another. However, it soon becomes clear that this supposedly innocent little gathering is far more sinister than it originally appeared, with guests dropping left and right and the murderer right in their midst. Soon, no one knows who to trust, and civility becomes an illusion. And Then There Were None, directed by Jessica Fisch, knocks it out of the park, with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

From left: Paul Tavianini, Casey Hoekstra, Jennifer Engstrom. Photo by Brett Beiner.

My personal favorite part about And Then There Were None at Drury Lane Theatre is the character development. Now, character development is a pretty basic part of any story, be it on paper or on stage, but And Then There Were None‘s setup of an unknown killer hidden amongst the guests leads to far more character development than in most stories. Seeing each character slowly begin to break down in his/her own unique way is almost as satisfying as finding out the identity of the murderer. Some characters like Blore (Paul-Jordan Jensen) just start to let down any pretense of civility or goodness, and freely admit to the crimes they’ve been accused of. Others like General Mackenzie (Bruce Young) begin to lose their grip on reality. It might sound cruel to say I enjoy watching these people sweat and suffer, but if you have even the smallest inkling of the plot of And Then There Were None, you know these guests aren’t innocent, with nearly all of them having directly or indirectly caused the death of one or more people. It’s basically the opposite of any character who has a redemption arc, where instead of the character becoming gradually more likable and genuinely good, most of the characters in And Then There Were None become slowly—or quickly, depending on the character—more despicable and unlikable, which makes their grisly murders less reprehensible.

From left: Matt Decaro, Paul-Jordan Jansen. Photo by Brett Beiner

While And Then There Were None does have some characters with a bit more stage time than others, every actor in the cast puts their all into it, and it’s honestly kind of hard for me to pick a stand-out favorite. I loved how Bruce Young portrayed General Mackenzie’s slow descent into insanity, as well as how Marilyn Dodds Frank played up Emily Brent’s self-righteousness and belief that everything occurring is because of God’s wrath. There’s a nice dichotomy between Philip Lombard’s (Yousof Sultani) cool collectedness and the panic shown by the timid and forever nervous Doctor Armstrong (David Kortemeier). Everyone in this production plays their character incredibly well. It’s really a treat seeing all these diverse characters stuck in such a diabolical situation and having to adapt…or else.

Bruce Young. Photo courtesy of Drury Lane Theater

Another high point for me in And Then There Were None is how the murders are handled. This a PG-13 performance, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in blood. While several murders are performed offstage, the ones onstage—or slightly offstage, while still allowing for a generous blood splatter—are all shocking and gratifying at the same time, especially with the way they come out of the blue. Perhaps the most surprising was actually one of the offstage deaths, which involved a beartrap and not-insignificant spray of blood across the back of the stage. Obviously I won’t say whose death it was and when, but let it be known, it’s grisly. This adds to the teeth-biting quality of the performance, because you never know who’s going to survive until the next scene, who’s going to die, and how it’ll happen. There were times, especially towards the end of the performance, when I was literally on the edge of my seat, wondering whether that had been the last death, and if not, who was the next to go. I will say that Drury Lane’s production takes some liberties with the source material, so if you’ve read And Then There Were None, you won’t know everything that’s going to happen. (And if you were thinking of complaining that I’ve given away spoilers here, the rule of spoilers ends when a play is 76 years old, has been produced hundreds of times by regional and community theaters, and has its own Wikipedia page.)

From left: Cher Alvarez, Yousof Sultani, Zachary Keller. Photo by Brett Beiner

Finally, the set design was fantastic. The previous production I reviewed at Drury Lane—Mamma Mia—was set on an island off Greece, and its set reflected that, with a background full of ships at sea and the actual set populated with ship masts and tropical bungalows. Seeing this same stage transformed into the interior of a decadent mansion on a small island off the coast of England was remarkable, with the fully realized hallways leading off the set being my favorite part. Andrew Boyce, the scenic designer for And Then There Were None, really hit a home run with this one, and he deserves suitable praise.

If you’re a fan of classic literature, whodunits, and bloody murders, then Drury Lane’s production of And Then There Were None is right up your alley. Director Jessica Fisch and the cast and crew have done an amazing job bringing Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel (and her script) to life on stage, and I enjoyed every second I spent watching their performance. So what are you still doing? Get up and go see And Then There Were None, or you too might end up suffering the repercussions of your decisions…

And Then There Were None continues through September 1 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook. Tickets start at $45. Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. The production includes gun shot and strobe effects. Fake blood is also used.

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