Arts & Leisure

An enthralling ‘Orient Express’

MARK Marmont (as Mr. Ratchet), Salvatore Messina as Col Arbuthnot, Kirsten Normand as Mary Devenham, Tessa Sarvis as the Countess Andrenyi, and Eric Schiffer as Herecule Poirot (Photo by Greg Parks).

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

It was supposed to be so simple.

A brief respite in between cases for the illustrious detective Hercule Poirot (Eric Schiffer), as he enjoyed the opulence of the fabled “Orient Express” on his way to a pressing engagement in London. But trouble seems to have a way of finding the Belgian sleuth…

Golden West College’s Mainstage Theater presents a classic case for the amateur theater-going gumshoe to puzzle out, in the Martie Ramm-directed Agatha Christie mystery “Murder on the Orient Express”.

After a troubling case in Istanbul, Poirot should really allow himself a break — but it seems the authorities in England are having none of it, as they desperately need his assistance post haste. His dear friend Monsieur Bouc (Ian Pedersen) — the owner of the all-amenities train — offers his own cabin to Poirot, as the train appears strangely fully booked for this trek… and it’s a curious assortment of characters joining him for the trip.

There’s the regal Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff (Lisa Stout) along with the devout Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson (Vienna Smith); shady American businessman Samuel Ratchett (Mike Marmont), accompanied by his secretary, Hector MacQueen (Emilio Ray Cummings); the temperamental English Colonel John Arbuthnot (Salvatore Messina); the chatty and larger-than-life widow, Helen Hubbard (Carrie Vinikow); kindly English governess Mary Debenham (Kirsten Normand); and the savvy Hungarian Countess Elena Andrenyi (Tessa Sarvis). Assisting the group with any of their needs is the train’s affable conductor Michel (Liam Cavanaugh).

As the journey gets underway, Poirot is approached by Mr. Ratchett, looking to hire him for extra protection, as the businessman has been receiving threatening letters. But Poirot always stands with the law, with justice… and is no one’s hired thug. He refuses, and walks away — and leaving the man aghast.

But when the luxurious train is sidetracked by a snowdrift, the passengers are left waiting for rescue… but for one of them, help will arrive far, far too late. A  murder aboard the waylaid train shocks the passengers… but as everyone is trapped onboard, the murderer can only be one of them. And it’s up to one determined detective to suss out who might have the ways or wherewithal to commit such a crime. But with assistance days away, and a murderer roaming freely, is anyone safe on board?

It’s an extraordinary adaptation of a well-loved and oft-retold Agatha Christie mystery, adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig; but while there may be derivations from earlier interpretations, the finished product here is a solid, polished, and mesmerizing feast for the eyes, that challenges the mind of the viewer to decide who engineered the victim’s demise.

Some seem almost above suspicion: others seem altogether too guilty. But as any fan of detective fiction or true crime knows – it’s rarely ever that easy.

Schiffer positively inhabits the role of Poirot, this “strange little man with the mustache” and eye for detail that eludes the average viewer; his interpretation carries both an ease and casual charm about it… if it were film, one could easily see him reprising the role down the line in another adaptation of Christie’s works.

Vinikow’s performance as Helen Hubbard is an energetic, colorful and ultimately endearing one; Messina’s hot-headed Colonel Arbuthnot charms, despite his bluster; Sarvis’ Countess carries herself with a maturity and temperament that hints to the viewer just how much the young woman has seen. Indeed, there is a plethora of excellent performances, if only for a limited time.

Playing at Golden West College’s Mainstage Theater for just one more weekend, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a love letter to the mystery lovers of SoCal, and one to catch before it reaches it’s final destination.

“Murder on the Orient Express”, Eric Schiffer, Carrie Vinikow, and Ian Pedersen star in this brilliant stage adaptation of the beloved Agatha Christie mystery. Playing through November 19 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at

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