Can Orthodox Jews make a life in the theater? After all, Dudu Fisher was able to arrange to play the lead role of Jean Valjean on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical “Les Miserables” only at non-Sabbath performances.
Even so, as scenic designer Brynna Bloomfield recently told the Journal, “I was just out of grad school [M.F.A. at Brandeis] when I was told that there was no way that I could succeed as an Orthodox Jew in theater.” When the now seasoned talent – whose credits include work for such Hub groups as Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, SpeakEasy Stage and Nora Theater – first sought to work at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston on “Playboy of the Western World” more than two decades ago, artistic director Spiro Veloudos gratified her with his response. “He didn’t just make it OK (to exempt her from Sabbath tech work) but he looked out for me to see if there was anything that might be right for me.”
Clearly one such show is the current Lyric Stage Company offering “Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.”
“The trick for me,” she explained, “was getting the train on stage.” Reflecting on her approach, the Emerson College teacher (18 years with Guy Ben-Aharon of Israeli Stage a notable past student) said, “There were clues for me in the script. Design for me is looking for clues.” Her own sleuthing led to the 1934 timing of the mystery. “I went straight to the style of the period – Art Deco and Cubism.” At the same time she researched the legendary train in the reference work “A History of the Orient Express.” Prizing her approach, she enthused, “The problem solving that we do is fantastic mind training.”
Ken Ludwig considers a problem solving mystery like “Murder on the Orient Express” akin to a comedy. It should come as no surprise that the author of a comic hit like “Lend Me a Tenor” would express such a view. Admittedly, there may be characters in the mystery with humorous touches – notably the great sleuth Hercule Poirot himself with his signature walk. Still Agatha Christie buffs might argue that this classic work has more in common with film noir – the genre which producing artistic director emeritus Spiro Veloudos brought up significantly during the Lyric Stage Company rehearsal period.
With that affinity in mind, he has ingeniously created a kind of atmospheric symbiosis with Brynna Bloomfield’s scenic design and Seaghan McKay’s artistic projection design. Bloomfield’s train interior design calls to mind Art Deco patterns and the cubist styles of Picasso and Leger. McKay provides film noir expository visuals about the pivotal Daisy Armstrong murder case. Add kudos for Scott Klyve’s richly complementary lighting and Gail Astrid Buckley’s finely varied costume design for the ethnically diverse suspects.
One can argue about Ludwig calling this mystery a comedy and reducing the book’s suspects to eight (especially the removal of Count Andrenyi), but Veloudos’ exquisite ensemble make the interrogations by Poirot and the brilliant denouement fully absorbing. Standout Remo Airaldi has all of Poirot’s charm, wit and Sherlock Holmes-rivaling smarts. Kerry A. Dowling captures Helen Hubbard’s talkative nature and Midwestern directness. Celeste Oliva makes Countess Andrenyi fascinating and alluring enough for Poirot to wish he were younger. Will McGarrahan is very convincing as Orient Express executive and Poirot sidekick Monsieur Bouc.
Poirot’s solution – or ‘two’ solutions – resembles “a magic trick,” and Veloudos’ direction of “Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express” itself proves magical.
Bloomfield is unendingly grateful to Veloudos: “Spiro has a special place in my heart,” she said. The designer of the company’s “The Chosen” and her favorite “Never the Sinner” added, “I think of the Lyric as my home.”
“Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston, through December 22. 617-585-5678 or lyricstage.com.