Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 28, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through March 25, 2018
by Shera Cohen

It’s difficult to think of a writing team of opposites whose work together (albeit, each from a different century) creates a near-perfect weaving of mystery and wit. Hartford Stage’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is a seamless script with elements of illusions and macabre from Queen of Crime author Agatha Christie placed in the hands of Ken Ludwig, one of the 21st century’s best playwrights whose forte is humor.

Hartford Stage’s production presents its audience with a gift – which on every level looks like the exact image of an authentic train called The Orient Express, complete with a cast of a dozen dazzling characters. Before any significant action, it is clear that a story of upper crust glamour is about to hit the rails. Equal to the talent of the play’s director and actors is the exquisite precision by set designer Beowulf Boritt, sound designer Darron L. West, and costume designer William Ivey Long. Spotlight’s reviews usually end with a short comment or two on the accomplishments of those backstage geniuses. In the case of “Orient Express,” this triumvirate of talent must be given special accolades. Boritt’s creation of the exterior and three-car interior of a decadent mid-20th century European train, West’s music and sound effects’ programming, and Long’s expensive fashions are nearly as important as the actors in telling Christie and Ludwig’s story.

Over the years, many Hercule Poirots have taken to the movie screens and television, conjuring up various personal images of this private investigator extraordinaire. Actor David Pittu, creates our over-dressed, well-spoken, intellectual hero. With Ludwig’s dialogue and emphasis on merriment more than mystery, Poirot reminds us of a dignified Inspector Colombo. Pittu is a slight man, yet in his own quiet way presents a Poirot whose presence shadows all other actors, as he well should. Pittu does, however, have competition from Julie Halston, an excellent actress playing a poor actress – that must be difficult. Emily Mann has directed her cadre of actors to play over-the-top, befitting their characters, aka suspects.

Perhaps, oddly, the question of “who the murderer is” wasn’t that important to me. Watching the wheels in Pittu’s brain lead Poirot to deduce the events leading up to the disastrous deed, was fascinating. Not that I’m a genius or that I had seen the movie, but I did guess the culprit shortly into Act II. It was Ludwig’s deft hand at comedy that was paramount over mystery, and that was perfectly fine