When a play is a murder mystery, like “Murder on the Orient Express,” I find it hard to write much about the plot without dangling any spoilers.
OK, actually I find it hard to resist the urge to dangle spoilers in my prose as an homage to Agatha Christie herself. But I know my limits; I am not nearly as clever or deft in my word spinning.
Luckily, in the case of Everyman Theatre’s production, there is much to talk about with the costumes and the set.
Lush, gorgeous and well-executed would be the best descriptors for the 1930s-inspired looks created by designer David Burdick. Not that plumed hats are the sole reason to see this play, but honestly they could be. Burdick notably designed the period costumes for Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel,” which the theater staged in 2017, and he has a knack for setting time and place with every button and buckle.
Similarly, the moving sets of “Murder on the Orient Express” evoke train cars and train movement itself. One of the best things about Everyman is that I’ve sat in many a different row but always feel like I am front row to the action. This was particularly true when the lights dimmed for the start of the play and we learned of an event that later drives the plot; it’s true as the train takes off and then as snow descends on the drama.
Some of my favorite moments were when the conductor radios the stations in various cities to update conductors there on the train’s status in the snowstorm. Around me, the audience reflexively shivered each time.
The cast brings to life an ensemble of European characters, although no one is as he or she seems (that is my one nod to plot). Bruce Randolph Nelson is charming as the well-known Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and Deborah Hazlett plays the over-the-top American Helen Hubbard as the distraction she is supposed to be. Lilian Oben is scene-stealing glamorous as Countess Andrenyi, who is also a doctor. I also love that the Countess just happens to have her medical bag with her on the train. Ah, the fun of a murder mystery.
A dark and stormy night
Which brings me to my main point about this play: December and its darkening skies prove to be a great backdrop for Agatha Christie, historical fiction, whodunits and favorite stories brought to stage. Indeed, the show was 90 percent sold out as of opening night; its advance sales are the best performing in the theater’s nearly three decades.
May I suggest that we also like a good train story this time of year? And if so, is this thanks to “Polar Express?” Perhaps. The shriek of a train whistle and a blinding storm of the white stuff I realized are now a pop culture pairing to me. Bring out the two and I am ready to be riveted by the story that unfolds in front of me.
You may be as well, but you need to get tickets fast.
“Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’” Everyman Theatre, through Jan. 5. everymantheatre.org