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Christie’s ‘Black Coffee’ rich treat at Coach House

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Jim Fippin (Captain Hastings), at left, and Ross Rhodes (Hercule Poirot) star in Coach House Theatre’s “Black Coffee.”
Photo: Scott Custer
WEST AKRON — When Agatha Christie comes calling, someone is murdered. Coach House Theatre is staging her popular play “Black Coffee” through Feb. 17.

In “Black Coffee,” Christie follows her usual formula — someone dies in the first act and by the end of the play, the bad guy or gal has confessed.

“Black Coffee” was first produced in 1930, with Charles Laughton as Hercule Poirot. That makes “Black Coffee” about 85 years old.

The story takes place in 1930 in the home of Sir Claude Amory (Timothy Champion), England’s premier physicist. Amory has perfected a new formula for a product that will be important to England’s defense program. When the formula disappears, Amory suspects a member of his own household is guilty of the espionage. 

In a scene typical of Christie, Amory calls everyone in his home into his library and makes the announcement that he knows someone in the room stole the formula. The lights go out. When the lights come on again, someone is dead and everyone in the room denies having anything to do with the murder or the formula.

Amory has called Hercule Poirot (Ross Rhodes), the famous Belgian detective. Poirot arrives and sets about to solve the murder.

Christie wrote that in a successful mystery novel, the suspicion falls on each character in his/her turn. Poirot has to sort out the motivations and the opportunities to find the killer among a roomful of likely suspects.

Rhodes creates a perfect Poirot. This Poirot has a slight accent, but every word can be understood. He is properly befuddled and, yet, with the help of Captain Hastings (Jim Fippin), he leads the guilty to confess.

Director Andrew Cruse did an excellent job of keeping the pace moving briskly, and he timed the performance so that the action built to the last moments, when the murderer confesses.

Cruse and the cast have developed a pleasing murder mystery designed to hold the attention of the audience. 

Each year, Coach House Theatre offers a Christie whodunit. Part of the pleasure of seeing so many Christie mysteries is to compare them in structure and style.

Christie was at the peak of her powers when she wrote “Black Coffee.”

For ticket information, call 330-434-7741.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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