reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

While it is not rare for Indiana Repertory Theatre to produce theatrical gems – every once in a while, we are treated by this august company to absolute perfection. IRT’s current offering of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s mystery masterpiece, Murder on the Orient Express, is one such occasion. Presented on an astonishing set design by Robert M. Koharchik, with grand costumes by Devon Painter, and a perfect light design by Michael Klaers, IRT has drawn together these multiple stagecrafting talents to support the show’s extraordinary cast.

Andrew May (right) as Hercule Poirot, solves the murder mystery aboard the Orient Express in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

In his IRT debut, Andrew May is very impressive as a multi-layered Hercule Poirot. May’s detective is presented with a large measure of comic precision, while mixing the serious business of crime-solving with an acute sense of Poirot’s impatient genius. May’s fellow cast members follow suit with necessarily broad renditions of their creations, filling the stage with a wide assortment of interesting people. Standouts include Ryan Artzberger’s dual roles as American bad-guy Samuel Ratchett and Scotsman Colonel Arbuthnot; Jennifer Joplin as a lightly lascivious Helen Hubbard; Gavin Lawrence as Poirot’s pal Monsieur Bouc; Dale Hodges as the outspoken Russian Princess Dragomiroff; and Callie Johnson as the princess’ Swedish companion Greta Ohlsson. Rob Johansen adds to his long list of comic achievements with his Head Waiter in Istanbul, coupled with his more serious train conductor, Michel. Others in the fine cast include Aaron Kirby as Ratchett’s secretary, Hector MacQueen; Nastacia Guimont as Mary Debenham; and Katie Bradley as Countess Andrenyi. As an ensemble, the players move the complicated story along in a coherent manner, seasoned by their adroit characterizations.

Director Risa Brainin’s clear, steadily paced story-telling is another essential factor in the show’s high grade – she never lets her cast’s focus stray from the sharply tuned presentation of characters, clues, and commotion.

Colonel Arbuthnot (Ryan Artzberger, far right) confronts Detective Poirot (Andrew May) as other passengers watch in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

Notice must be given to Mr. Koharchik’s amazing set. Pivoting on a large 3 sectioned turntable, the design allows for: 1) a general area used for the opening Istanbul hotel scenes as well as subsequent less-specific onboard areas, 2) a set of three train compartments where much of the action is featured, and 3) a dining room style area with tables and chairs where many scenes of Poirot’s investigative interviews take place. These diverse areas are all fashioned with luxurious details: richly crafted wood paneling and shiny brass appointments – fine points of the opulence that was a special quality of the Orient Express. Finally a set of “windows” rises at the rear, indicating the scene’s whereabouts, whether it be in Istanbul, on the moving Express, or stuck in the snows of a mountain pass. Add the fact that the entire set and all its furnishings will be moved to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park following IRT’s run, and the design’s impressiveness is multiplied.

Detective Hercule Poirot (Andrew May) and Countess Andrenyi (Katie Bradley) examine the murder victim in IRT’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express”

Bottomline: IRT’s Murder on the Orient Express is a remarkably satisfying entertainment, with an outstanding cast, the aforementioned staging details, and a first rate script. To me, it is one of the most completely perfect productions I have seen in Central Indiana in a long time. Go and enjoy it!

Murder on the Orient Express continues on the IRT OneAmerica Mainstage through March 29th. Tickets and information about the show can be found by visiting http://www.irtlive.com or by calling (317) 635-5252.

  • – photos by Zach Rosing
  • – artwork by Kyle Ragsdale