Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Black Coffee

Christie, a DB and Hercule
Ottawa Little Theatre gives escape from the summer inferno
by Jim Murchison
The Ottawa Little Theatre presented a night of mystery last evening with Agatha Christie's seldom produced Black Coffee. Before I describe the evening and the performance, the biggest mystery to me was why a play that has one of the most enduring and beloved characters in radio, film and novels -  Hercule Poirot  - has so seldom been produced. Earlier this year I missed the opportunity to see a seldom produced Dr Cook’s Garden by Ira Levin, but the feedback I heard was that it was not very well crafted.
By virtue of being the only play Christie wrote containing Poirot, one would think it would bring producers out of the woodwork or wherever they were hiding eager to cash in on one of literature’s most marketable characters and it shocks me that it was never produced on Broadway. The author herself thought the play to be pretty standard and she actually thought Poirot was a little smug and creepy after a while although not enough to stop writing him into her books and stories. She certainly kept making money off of him. 
It has a stolen formula for an A bomb, suitable suspects with varying motives and of course plenty of red herrings.
The play itself may not be Agatha Christie’s greatest but it is well structured and has all the essential elements for a respectable whodunit. It has a stolen formula for an A bomb, suitable suspects with varying motives and of course plenty of red herrings. 
Robin Riddihough’s set is suitably art deco with multiple places for exits and entrances including lovely glass doors that lead onto the patio. The costumes represent 1930’s aristocracy well and the women have the necessary bling for soirĂ©e socializing.
What this particular production has working for it as well is an impeccable Poirot in the very talented Andi Cooper who mixes his obsessive compulsive behaviour and arrogance with the right blend of charm and wit to make him totally endearing. He bears a striking resemblance to David Suchet, the actor most associated with Poirot in recent years.
Other performances that impressed me were Louis Lemire as the nervous Italian conman Dr. Carelli, Theresa Knowles as the victim’s sister was very comfortable in her role and her dialect, and Paul Washer as Poirot’s assistant Hastings is very likeable; not as astute as Poirot of course, but not a buffoon either.
All of the action is well directed by Johni Keyworth who doesn’t allow too much melodrama, just enough to keep our interest over the two and a half hours. The audience was very appreciative and there was a healthy mix of younger and older patrons which is very encouraging. Although they liked the cast and the play it was very clear that it was Cooper’s Poirot that shone the brightest.
Ms Christie’s assessment of her play being a conventional thriller is probably accurate, but she is just as accurate when she determines the play is, “not at all bad.” Particularly for lovers of the genre it is very fun indeed.

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