By Allison McCausland
A&E and Online Editor
Act 1 kicked off their season on Sep. 27 with the murder mystery production, Murder on the Nile, playing on the Main Stage theater in Labuda. The production, based on Agatha Christie’s notable work, is set to end on Oct. 8, leaving plenty of time for patrons to attend performances before the next production moves in.
Taking place in 1930’s Egypt, the story centers around newly married couple Kay, a rich socialite, played by junior Brooke Harrsch, and Simon Mostyn, her penniless husband, played by sophomore Matthew Smaldone, as they spend their honeymoon on a passenger steamship. However, tension arises between the two when Simon’s ex-fiancée, Jacqueline De Several, played by senior Alexandra Seman, arrives to disrupt their nuptials.
Soon, a passenger is found dead and everyone on the steamer becomes a suspect of the horrendous crime. Deception and revelations abound as the passengers attempt to clear their names and figure out who the killer is before they make their escape or find another victim.
“The mystery genre is one that I have not directed much of in the past,” said director Steven Dennis. “The story is deliciously suspenseful, and the varied characters give our student actors wonderful opportunities to expand their art and craft.”
Dennis, who directed last season’s hit dramatic adaption of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, stated that he loves adding new genres to his directorial experience and hopes that audiences and Christie fans will be open and appreciative of his approach to the production.
Given that the fall productions in Act 1’s line up are typically comedies, Christie’s drama mixes things up for the 2017-2018 season. Nevertheless, the production had its lighter moments.
“Agatha Christie really knows how to drop in some funny bits along the way,” said Dennis, “not only to keep her audience entertained, but to let them breathe and stay vulnerable for unexpected suspenseful twists.”
“I’ve done murder mysteries in the past and they’re always so much fun to work on,” said senior Ethan Larsen, who plays the role of William Smith. “As far as murder mysteries go, you can’t do much better than Agatha Christie.”
Larsen and the rest of the cast have spent the majority of their September rehearsing to bring the play to life, and make it as entertaining and suspenseful as they can for their audience. They also tried to channel this into how each actor would play their characters.
“My favorite part about the rehearsal process was the analysis of the script. Christie packed this script with so many interesting turns and red herrings,” said Smaldone.
One of the most interesting parts of the script was the character of Jacqueline, the jilted fiancée and ex-friend of the main couple. Seman does a tremendous job of playing the role that some could typically write off as the staple, crazy ex-girlfriend, adding complexity to Jacqueline’s true intentions.
“I hope the audience will see and understand why Jacqueline acts the way she does,” said Seman in regard to playing her character, “It is up to the audience to decide whether or not her acts are justified.”
What compliments the acting and overall atmosphere is the breathtaking scenic design, done by Will Neuert, and lighting, designed by Eric T. Haugen. The combination of these two sets the mood just right for each scene, building up suspense to illuminate the revelations notably reached in the second act.
“What our designers have created is something quite special,” said Dennis. “The spatial layout of the set, the magic made by sophisticated lighting design, the distinct look of the fabulous costumes and exotic environment sculpted with rich sound design.”
Although the story gets off to a sluggish start, there is no denying that the chemistry of the cast and crew shines through each part of the production.
“I believe that this production has been exemplary of how a production team should listen and communicate with one another,” said Harrsch. The cast and crew’s teamwork definitely shows with the level of action and detail each scene on stage displayed throughout the performance.
“I hope audiences will just have a good time! Take a few hours to kick back and come on this adventure with us,” said senior Nathan Borzillo, who plays Dr. Bessner. Indeed, the audience at the opening night were on the edge of their seats by the climax of the whodunit, solidifying Act 1’s optimistic tone for the rest of their season.
“Just come for a nice cruise down the Nile River, and we’ll take care of the rest,” said Dennis.