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Theatre Review (LA): Black Coffee by Agatha Christie at Theatre 40

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Like many people I know, I went through an Agatha Christie phase where I read all the Miss Marple series and all that featured Hercule Poirot. I even found time to read a few others, like Partners in Crime and Parker Pyne Investigates. In London I made the obligatory pilgrimage to see The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in theatre history. When Theatre 40 announced that they would put on Black Coffee by Agatha Christie I was excited to see this, her first Hercule Poirot play.

Poirot, the meticulous pear-shaped detective from Belgium, first appeared in 1920 in the novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It wasn’t until 1930 that she tried her hand at bringing Poirot to the stage herself. Black Coffee was the result and had a successful run, first at the Embassy Theatre, and later on the West End where it ran for several months.

Black Coffee takes place in the living room of Sir Claud Amory whose formula for a powerful new explosive has been stolen. When he is mysteriously killed when the lights are turned out, everyone becomes a suspect and Monsieur Poirot along with his companion Hastings are brought in to solve the mystery. The story is a humdinger and kept me guessing until the end. It is no mystery why Ms. Christie is the most successful mystery writer of all time.

The cast at Theatre 40 is up to the challenge and under the astute guidance of veteran director Bruce Gray, gives us a jolly good show. Artistic Director David Hunt Stafford is Sir Claud but as I said he makes a hasty exit. Nicholas Hoskins brings an air of authenticity to the role of Hastings. Don Moss plays the know-it-all Detective Japp. LizAnne Keigley provides some laughs as Miss Amory. Shelby Kocee has a ball with the guilty-acting Miss Lucia. At the center is Poirot, played by one of the Southland’s finest actors, Tom Dugan. He doesn’t try to imitate David Suchet who has so successfully put his stamp on the role in television and film, but comes up with a characterization all his own.

The only faults I found in the evening were a couple of contemporary references and asides to the audience that I am sure were not in the original. This delightful mystery plays at Theatre 40 until Aug. 1.

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