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Curtain to rise on music, mystery // "Murder on the Nile'

The Avenue Players Theatre of Tarpon Springs launches its fourth season with a special benefit performance Thursday of Agatha Christie's mystery/thriller Murder on the Nile. Eight more performances will be presented during the following weekends.

"We're doing this (play) in anticipation of the exhibit coming to the (Florida) International Museum in St. Petersburg, the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt,'

" said Diane Forgione, director of the play and founder of the acting troupe.

The play is set on a paddlewheel boat traveling down the Nile River in the southern part of Egypt from Shellal to Wadi Halfa in 1929. Aboard are newlyweds Simon Doyle and his very wealthy bride, Linnet. Also aboard is Jacqueline, the woman Simon jilted in order to marry Linnet, and an assortment of interesting people made more interesting by Ms. Christie's considerable writing skills.

They include Miss Ffoliot-Ffoulkes, a bad-tempered dowager, and her niece and companion, Christina Grant; Dr. Bressner, a German nursing a grudge against Linnet's father for the way he accumulated his wealth; Smith, a seeming ne'er-do-well hanger-on; and Louise, Linnet's maid.

Somewhere along the way, there is a murder, and in good Christie tradition, everyone on the boat is a suspect. Amid the twists and turns and coincidences, the author has woven romance, clever dialogue and lots of opportunities for actors and audience to have a great deal of fun.

Ms. Forgione has brought together 14 of the Tampa Bay area's most experienced, award-winning performers to make up her cast.

The lead players include Grey Valenti as the spurned and angry Jacqueline, James M. DeSantis as the bridegroom Simon, Abbott R. Morgan as the indefatigable investigator Canon Pennyfather, and Gloria Marvin as the rich aunt Ffoliot.

Valenti, a marine science major at the University of South Florida, has had leads in several community theater plays, including Blithe Spirit, Romeo and Juliet and The Importance of Being Earnest. DeSantis, a native of Massachusetts, was named the 1992 Eastern Massachusetts Best Actor for his portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He has performed with the Carrollwood Players as George in Same Time, Next Year.

Morgan, a retired Army officer from Brooklyn, has taught, directed and acted in South Pacific, Guys and Dolls and Damn Yankees at other theaters and has performed in the Players' productions of Pygmalion and Anastasia. Marvin nearly stole the show during the Players' 1994 production of Anastasia, when she played the dowager empress of Russia. She played the title role in the American Stage production of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You and was Ouiser in Steel Magnolias.

Other players include Michael F. Bruno in the character role of the Beadseller and Donna Rossi as Linnet, Simon's bride. Bruno recently won the Tampa Bay community theater's Lary Award as Favorite Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in Amorous Flea at Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater. Rossi played Duchess Livenbaum in the Players' 1994 Anastasia and spent part of last year in London, where she studied Shakespeare.

Other players are Majorie Morgan, Joe DiBello, Alexander C. Silva, Linda Tharp, Amanda J. Kelly, Tedd Merritt, Anastasia Coyne and James Kelly.

Theater review

Murder on the Nile, a mystery/thriller in two acts by Agatha Christie, produced by the Avenue Players Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19, at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 Pine St., Tarpon Springs. Tickets are $11, with a $2 discount for members. For tickets and availability, call the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center box office at (813) 942-5605.

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