Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee” must be decaf, cause it lacks the jolt and jitters that most audience members and enthusiasts would like. While Coach House Theatre’s production of it cannot compensate for the thinness of the plot materials, it brings robustness through other production values – acting, directing, costumes and set.
The narrative dances gingerly around Sir Claud Amory, who has tucked away in the safe in his library, a formula for an atomic bomb. Enter several characters, each of whom, might want the secret enough to – you guessed it – poison the older gentleman by lacing his black coffee.
Unfortunately, Christie’s plot complications and characters weren’t developed strongly enough to generate a whole lot of confusion – or interest – in the “whodunit” nature of the play. Probably the closest came in the character of Lucia (played with intensity and fervor by Holly Humes), a secretive, mysterious woman with a shady past. She was the touchstone in the play, with most of the evidence pointing toward her as the culprit. Anyone who sees mysteries knows not to fall for that.
The other characters didn’t seem even a bit likely to be involved, nor did the script provide enough prompting to make you want to guess. Mark Stoffer, who acted the role of Dr. Carelli, gave it a shot of making his smarmy, gauche and sleazy character a possibility.
Therefore, it will come as a total surprise for you when you in fact find out who had the poison and access to deliver it. And don’t be surprised if you can’t recall the character’s role from the beginning. It just wasn’t developed enough to create concern or likelihood.
All that aside, the actors were solid and gave credible and strong performances. Karen Wood, as the dottering Caroline Amory, brought laughs at every turn, as did the young ingénue role of Tess Burgler’s character, Barbara. Who knew Agatha Christie could really play it for laughs.
Ross Rhodes, as Hercule Poirot, Christie’s legendary detective, was spectacular in making his character dissembling, innocuous, yet undeniably clever and cunning – all with deft humor underlining his every action. Sidekick Captain Arthur Hastings, played by Jim Fippin, helped lighten the burden of murder and make mayhem a merry venture.
The set of Amory’s drawing room was as stuffed as one thinks of Victorian chambers. There were clocks everywhere – 10 or 11, I think – and not any two of them with the same time. Somehow that seemed believable in this crusty world where time and schedules might seem a pesky distraction.
Andrew Cruse, as director, kept the stage busy and pulled the audience’s vision where he wanted the focus to be. He apparently gave his actors plenty of room to do their thing and was rewarded with quality performances.
Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee” will be performed Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through February 17 at Coach House Theatre, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron; 330-434-7741; www.coachhousetheatre.com. Tickets are $18.