Theatre Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

(L – R) Michael Kharfen (Hercule Poirot), Brianna Goode (Countess Andrenyi), and Brian Lyons-Burke (Monsieur Bouc). Photo by Matt Liptak.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is one of Agatha Christie’s most well-known novels. As adapted by Ken Ludwig, the play of the same name takes audiences on a train ride they will not soon forget. Ever in the shadows, the too-clever-for-his-own-good detective, Hercule Poirot, must unravel the mystery of who stabbed Samuel Ratchett. With berths full of potential suspects and some truly head-scratching clues to try and interpret, Poirot faces perhaps one of his tougher cases to crack—and he only has two days to do it in.

As handled by the Little Theatre of Alexandria, this production…scores high theatrical marks.

Almost immediately it comes to light that the deceased Ratchett (a brief but memorable turn by Paul Caffrey) was actually Bruno Casetti, the man responsible for the horrific kidnapping and murder of little Daisy Armstrong. Herein, Poirot begins to establish motive as he searches for possible ties between the Daisy Armstrong case and the passengers aboard the Orient Express. Essentially everyone on that train is a suspect. Watching the highly engaging Michael Karfen as the legendary Belgian inspector “do his thing” is a whole lot of fun.

Fun, along with a healthy dose of intrigue, seem to be the key themes of this show. As handled by the Little Theatre of Alexandria, this production certainly scores high theatrical marks. The cast keeps audiences guessing as each ensemble member does a wonderful job of holding their secrets tight to the vest while letting their individual quirks and idiosyncrasies fly. As Mrs. Hubbard—the many-times married American on board the train—Eleanore Tapscott makes scene-stealing look easy. Rather flamboyant and outspoken, Tapscott’s Mrs. Hubbard easily collects the lion’s share of the laughs. All actors seem to uncannily morph into their ostensible roles and then also their more secretive ones as the whodunit aspect of the play snowballs into a veritable avalanche of half-truths, downright lies, and Poirot’s pivotal a-ha moments.

Portraying the Hungarian Countess Andrenyi, Brianna Goode is a character you can’t outright condemn as a potential suspect and yet, her brilliantly affected coyness is enough to add her to the list. Princess Dragomiroff, played by Patricia Nicklin, deftly balances stateliness with an underlying nervousness that makes it seem as though she could unravel at any moment. Her sidekick Greta Ohlsson, in Julia Rudger’s quite capable hands, is that more comical counterpoint whose “too-naïve-to-be-true” behavior certainly flags her as a possible accomplice.

Playing the role of Hector MacQueen, Ratchett’s assistant, Avery Lance offers a do-gooder spirit that you can’t quite trust. Rounding out the list of suspects is Col. Arbuthnot, played by the highly entertaining John Paul Odle, whose Scottish brogue can be a little thick at times. As the colonel’s love interest, Mary, Danielle Comer does a fine job as the scared-of-her-own-shadow spinster who could just as easily be hiding a knife behind her back.

Poirot does have some help in trying to solve this case in the form of Orient Express president Bouc, in a drolly delightful performance by Brian Lyons-Burke and also from the rather harried train conductor, a part Paul Donahoe truly makes his own.

Director Stefan Sittig does a tremendous job of fitting all of the puzzle pieces into their respective places. With such a large cast and expansive set design, this certainly does not seem an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. Speaking of set design, Matt Liptak really makes a name for himself with this one. Admittedly, this was probably the first play I’ve attended where the audience clapped for the set design alone upon its initial reveal as well as several subsequent reveals. Puzzle pieces unto themselves, the rotating platforms replicating the various sections of a train are stunning, and the logistics, in some senses, mind-boggling. Standing ovation here to Liptak and company.

Costume design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley handily brings us back to the 1930s. While the sound design by Janice Rivera, lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley, and special effects by Art Snow all wonderfully come together to recreate this time period and amplify the comedy and chaos surrounding Poirot’s latest case. This is most definitely theatre for theatre’s sake—spectacle and over-the-top antics at their finest. So if you’re up for a little sleuthing, a lot of hijinks and plenty of laughs, this is one train you’ll certainly want to board.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission. 

“Murder on the Orient Express” runs through April 13, 2024 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *