As done at Stage West Community Playhouse, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Nile isn't so much a "whodunnit" as a "what is it?"
Murder mystery? Yes. But also a philosophical and political conceit, a romance of sorts, a comedy, and — probably not Miss Christie's doing — a farce with disconcerting comedy mugging.
It's as if the famed mystery writer opened her notebook and dumped all her characters and situations into this mishmash of a script.
The performers give a valiant effort, but even the most talented and seasoned are unable to make this play work.
They apparently got little help from director Terri Marwood, who seems to have thrown up her hands and let each actor do his or her own thing and then, to make things worse, inserted several stop-scenes when the cast turns en masse to mug at the audience as an offstage organ plays dramatic chords for emphasis, Young Frankenstein style. (Even if that wasn't the director's idea, she let it happen.)
Murder on the Nile has good bones. A newly-married couple, the rich and spoiled Kay and her new husband Simon Mostyn (Angela Sarabia, Bryan Sarabia) board a paddle wheel boat to cruise down the Nile and are stalked by the angry ex-girlfriend of the groom, Jacqueline DeSeverac (Jennifer Vilardi).
They're joined by an assortment of interesting characters, including the bride's guardian, Canon Pennefather (Peter Clapsis), who bums off his wealthy charge and takes on the part of detective when the Egyptian police are slow to the scene after a couple of murders.
If the playwright had left it at that, these hard-working actors might have been able to give us a good show. Instead, Miss Christie inserted asides about racial, social, class and economic inequalities that add little to the plot and do nothing to create the trademark Christie red herrings that are so much fun.
Not to pile on, but the deadly pacing of the show and some glaring inattention to detail (a doctor bandaging a gunshot wound on top of a man's pants leg? a chair placed in front of a crucial window that must swing inward to open? a boat whistle that sounds like an organ? hair styles that don't match the characters or the era?) didn't help matters.
The audience must draw what pleasure it can from good performances by some of the actors, mostly those in supporting roles.
Stage novice Phillip Giankas plays the ship's steward with grace and just enough deference to be convincing. W. Paul Wade is delightful as the casually kibitzing American, Smith, who may or may not be royalty in disguise. The ever-dependable Leanne Germann is a wonderful Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes, as haughty and condescending as one of her rank would be, emphasized by elegant costumes, make-up and coiffure.
Young Fevronia Stampoulis is a lovely Christina, Miss ffoliot-ffoulkes' niece/companion. Linda Clapsis shows promise as Louise, the maid, though she sometimes allows too much silence before she speaks. Bead sellers Edward O'Looney and Nick Martinez are amusingly intrusive and do hint at a red herring.
And William Schommer does a nice Dr. Bressner, who does the most to demonstrate the hot, claustrophobic nature of the setting, never mind his strange doctoring skills.
Like Neil Simon, Agatha Christie is usually a crowd-pleaser, but also like Simon, she sometimes misses the mark, leaving cast, crew and audience bewildered rather than beguiled.