COUNTDOWN One by one, the characters expire mysteriously.
With storms flying and the frisson of September in the air, it's beginning to be the season for mysteries, and this weekend you can curl up with a chilly Agatha Christie classic. That its island-bound homicides are performed in an old town hall in Hallowell adds something perfect to the ambience. Gaslight Theater's production of And Then There Were None, directed by George Dunn, is very competent community theater show,
A collection of 10 quintessential English types have been summoned by letter to a house on desolate Soldier Island. The only domestic staff, Rogers (Melvin Morrison) and his missus (Phyllis McQuaide) first greet secretary Vera Claythorne (Heidi Holst) and a captain of South African operations, Philip Lombard (Ryan Gould). Soon joining them are a young narcissist with a love of fast cars, Anthony Marston (Paul A. Chamberlain); a former cop who at first lies about his name, William Blore (Dale Smith); and "nerve doctor" Dr. Armstrong (Andy Tolman). Rounding out the guest list are judge Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Frank Omar), the priggish and religious old lady Emily Brent (Jennifer Cart) and the borderline-senile General Mackenzie (Walter Guild). But once they've gathered, their host fails to appear, and in no time at all, a disembodied voice has accused them each of some complicity in one or another murder. And then the 10 start turning up dead, in creepy alignment with the verses to a (quite creepy, actually) colonial-era nursery rhyme. So one of them is killing the others, and they're completely cut off from the mainland.
It takes a lot of imagination anymore to immerse in an era when some sort of Google App wouldn't have solved the mystery immediately and airlifted everybody safely away, and Gaslight does a nice job visually conjuring the aristocratic trappings of yesteryear's thrillers. The mansion's living room, where everything goes down, bespeaks understated English wealth with its art in gilt frames, fireplace, mounted deer head, and French doors upstage (set design by Marc Loiselle and George Dunn). We occasionally hear some sound-designed gulls (Andrew Vick) to remind of us our bleak sea setting. Much care has also been spent (by Hannah K. Davis) in costuming each character — trench coats and three-piece suits, a plum fedora; Marston in pinstripes with a bow-tie and pocketwatch. Vera wears some tastefully flashy threads, including a sea-green and gold skirt suit, and Emily looks particularly echt in restrained black velvet and ivory lace at her throat.
And Then's community actors form a cohesive ensemble; their banter and looks of disapproval or suspicion nicely progress the particular social tensions of the situation. Through complicated entrances and exits via three different doors, they move deftly. And the show is studded with some great acting highlights: As uptight old Emily Brent, Cart, with her fine bones, erect carriage, and taut jaw exudes her character's vicious moral superiority and straight-up God-craziness. The looks she shoots Vera and everyone else, as she knits furiously, are enough to drive one back to where the whiskey's kept. Holst's Vera is sympathetic and a touchstone for the fright of the situation, Omar makes a brusquely efficient Sir Wargrave, and Smith has a great laconic bluster as Blore. And for me, the most hair-raising scene of the whole show came from Guild's excellent, haunted General Mackenzie, as the old man's nerves and sanity fray.