Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Count and the Curse

The Woodland Opera House refuses to be stopped by the pandemic and is presenting “The Count and the Curse,” two Agatha Christie plays for live radio, streaming Friday and Saturday May 21 and 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 23, at 2 p.m.

The plays will be recorded live in the historic Woodland Opera House and presented online. Director Matthew Abergel, says. “The show must go on, right? And that’s what we’re doing, while still keeping everyone safe.”

The plays have been adapted by playwright Bob Cooner, who says, “I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie and, especially, of the Hercule Poirot stories, novels, films, plays, etc. It occurred to me that some of these early Poirot stories, now in public domain, would make very entertaining plays or even radio plays, since that presentation format seemed more feasible during the pandemic; thus, I adapted these two stories (“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” and “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”) as radio plays.”

The streaming presentation showcases detective Hercule Poirot (Darryl Strohl-De Herrera) in two of his earliest whodunnits. In the first mystery, Poirot and his stalwart companion, Capt. Arthur Hastings (Scott Martin), investigate the death of the Italian Count Foscatini. In the second, they travel to Egypt to untangle a series of deaths supposedly caused by a mummy’s curse.

Other cast members taking multiple parts include Aaron Baikie-Rick, David Cross, Emily Delk, Rand Doerning, Jori Gonzales and Skyler King.

The Opera House stage is empty, with actors holding scripts and standing at microphones. Sound effects are created and executed by Jason Hammond. Craig Vincent is in charge of technical direction and videography.

“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” is a short story first published in 1923 in the U.K. Martin is superb as Hastings, doing most of the narration of the story of the murder of Count Foscatini.

While good as Poirot, Strohl-De Herrera suffers from an accent, sometimes French, sometimes something else and not at all consistent. Still, he plays the Adrian Monk-like detective, who notices every little thing and uses those bits of information to solve the mystery with aplomb.

The supporting cast (Delk, Baikie-Rick and King) are each excellent, with King creating two very different characters, both outstanding.

Background music is a bit disrupting, perhaps because of the streaming, and might not have been as bothersome if this were a live performance. Additionally, while it was great fun to watch Hammond creating the radio sounds, they didn’t make it clearly to the video.

There is an intermission between the two plays, with Fats Waller music played by pianist Dean Moran.

In “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,” also written in 1923, Poirot is called upon to solve a series of mysterious deaths that are centered around the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Strohl-De Herrera has better control of his accent in this play, and the music used fits more with the story. The supporting cast are Jori Gonzales, Rand Doerning and David Cross, who is particularly good when angry. Feigning death, Poirot uncovers the culprit responsible for the series of deaths attributed to a mummy’s curse.

Following these short stories featuring Poirot, he was the hero in 33 novels, two stage plays and more than 50 short stories.

This is a fun production, and with the recent lifting of masks and safe distancing, this might be the last streaming production for local theater.

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