Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Suspense reigns in 'Murder on the Orient Express'



Countess Andrenyi (April Culver) meets Detective Hercule Poirot (Michael Champlin) on the platform of the Orient Express. (Photo by Christian Pizzirani)


When a passenger is found stabbed to death in his bed on the legendary Orient Express train from Istanbul to Western Europe in 1934, Hercule Poirot must use his keen detective skills to find the guilty person.

Because no one had entered or exited the train since it left Istanbul, the list of suspects is confined to its passengers and staff in Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

And because the train is stuck in the snow with no connection to the outside world, it’s up to Poirot to find the murderer.

In Palo Alto Players’ production, astutely directed by Katie O’Bryon Champlin, her husband, Michael Champlin, plays Poirot with sharp timing.

The rest of the cast also is noteworthy, especially Zachary Vaughn-Munck as Monsieur Bouc, the train company’s owner. Bay Area favorite Linda Piccone as Princess Dragomiroff brings her understated comedic skills to the character.

As Poirot finds one clue after another, each seeming to implicate another suspect, the suspense grows.

Multi-tasking Kevin Davies, who designed movable sets to facilitate quick scene changes, also served as prop designer, technical director and master carpenter. Effective lighting is by Edward Hunter.

Because Palo Alto Players’ usual home, the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, is being outfitted with new seats and other improvements, this show is being presented in Woodside High’s Performing Arts Center.

Its acoustics are less than ideal, distorting the dialogue, making it hard to understand even though it can be heard in Jeff Grafton’s sound design.

The characters’ accents also interfere with catching all of the dialogue. Nevertheless, the staging and acting clarify most of the plot so that the surprise ending comes through.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission, “Murder on the Orient Express” will continue through June 30 at the Woodside High venue, 199 Churchill Ave., Woodside, where there’s ample parking just west of the Woodside Road-Alameda de las Pulgas intersection.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.