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The Orient Express brings murder and mystery to The Wayne Theatre’s stage

Rebecca Barnabi
“Murder on the Orient Express” is based on Agatha Christie’s novel and screenplay by Ken Ludwig. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

World-famous Detective Hercule Poirot is traveling home after solving another case.

He runs into an old friend, Bouc, a train director who encourages Poirot to take a ride on his train for “the most memorable journey of your life.”

“He gets stuck on a train with eight suspicious people in the middle of a blizzard and has to solve a murder,” said Corey Holmes, The Wayne Theatre’s Director of Education.

Holmes takes her turn as director with this month’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express.”

While five films, including the 2017 version starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp, followed the 1936 novel by Agatha Christie, the play adaption did not come about until 2018.

Holmes said she hopes audience members take away the humor from the production.

“I just hope they feel a bunch of emotions,” she said. “There really is something for everyone in this.”

Although the story is about a man’s murder, very little violence is seen on stage. Holmes said she hopes the murder mystery of the show does not keep audience members away.

“I hope they give it a chance,” she said.

Julia Robertson portrays Mrs. Hubbard, who is on her fourth husband.

“She’s a bit of a man eater,” Robertson said, “but with a heart of gold.”

In preparing to portray a character who is humorous and larger than life, Robertson said she watched movies with similar characters. With 30 years of theater experience, Robertson has been seen in The Wayne’s “Dial M for Murder” last October and, most recently, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“It’s so well written. The lines are so funny, so you don’t have to work very hard to be funny,” she said of her character in “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Robertson, who is Scottish, is the only member of the cast who came to the production with a non-American accent and acquired an American accent for the production.

“I hope they have a really good night out,” Robertson said of what she hopes audience members take away from seeing the production. “I think life has been challenging for a lot of people recently and it really has. And, I just think, this play has so much joy.”

In preparing to portray Poirot, John Rabasa first grew a moustache. Then he watched the BBC production to acquire the character’s accent.

His first production with The Wayne, Rabasa majored in theater as an undergraduate student but finished his degree in Fine Arts. He later worked as a creative director in interactive media and returned to acting six years ago.

He said the duty of an actor is to get the intention of a playwright and interpret the text what the playwright thinks of the character.

“Ken Ludwig is very good. He tells me exactly what Poirot thinks is funny, what Poirot thinks is annoying, who he likes, who he doesn’t like,” Rabasa said.

He hopes audience members are surprised by who the murderer is in The Wayne’s production, and enjoy the humor, pacing and characters.

Rabasa said he understands that many audience members connect with the character of Poirot.

“I sincerely hope they connect with my version,” he said of Poirot.

The production follows a great script that is true to Christie’s book, according to Rabasa.

“At the end of the day, I hope they’re entertained and they come out with a big smile on their face.”

Jennifer Jones prepared to portray Natalya Dragomiroff, the Russian Princess, by working on a Russian accent. She said every member of the cast has put in a lot of work to acquire authentic accents for their characters.

Jones was most recently seen in The Wayne’s production of “The Little Mermaid” as Chef Louis and was the Rev. Chasuble in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“I am really hopeful for the audience members who don’t know the story,” Jones said. “I’m really excited for people to be introduced to the story through the play, through this production of the play.”

Jones is hopeful for audience members who do know who the murderer is, that they feel the production has done justice to the original source material and Christie’s novel.

As Bouc tells Poirot, the Orient Express is not a train, but a legend.

“Murder on the Orient Express” will be performed at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 26, 7 p.m. on Friday, October 27, 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 28 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 29, 2023. Tickets are available online.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.