Four Stars and Three Cheers for Ten Murders

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie at The Narrows Community Theatre, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Reviewed by Amy M. Frateo

Agatha Christie is arguably one of the finest mystery writers of our time. She has given us intricate plots and twists that always leave them gasping … if not screaming… on stage and in the audience. Narrows Community Theatre delivered just such a scream/laugh/gasp night with its version of Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” How PC of them to NOT call it “Ten Little Indians” and to have the famed rhyme be ten soldier boys.

First a bravo is to be given to the 35+ year-old company for delivering a classic drama when so many companies of its ilk stick to all tuners for their season.
The next bravo is to director George Ferencz for bringing a generally brisk (act one plodded just a bit) paced night of murder and mayhem and for some nice stage pictures.

The plot is all too well-known: bunch of pedestrian ne’er-do-wells invited to a lonely island where they are picked-off according to a nursery rhyme (of course kids are warped with rhymes like “ten little soldier boys” and “rock-a-bye baby”). The fun is in the condemned company’s reactions and deductions.

Toshi Nakayama & Anne Govin as the Itos, the manor’s faithful retainers played it camp thus lighting the mood and setting us up for intermittent laughs. The parts seemed written for older actors as the reactions (such as Mr. Ito’s decision to keep working after his wife is found murdered) seemed meant for those of another era. This made it hard for Nakayama & Govin to come across as real as the other characters but the two supplied a nice humorous set-up for the story. Equally camp was Rob Aloi as the bumbling seaman escorting the guests to their doom. Aloi’s bug-eyed glances and bugs bunny style exits again harkened back to a campier time.
The lovers – and there has to be at least one pair – were played commandingly by Dain Alexandra & William Doyle. Here we have solid murder-mystery characterizations complete with blunt honesty from the heroic Doyle and damsel-in-distress jitters from Alexandra. Their characters were sturdy enough to make them visible even in the background.

As Marston, the weaselly wise-guy, Rocco Buonpane was really excellent. Tough-guy tones and ugly jacket, Buonpane turned the camp to gallows humor and – as the first to suffer at the hands of the mysterious killer, Mr. U.N. Owen (or unknown) – set the pace nicely for the rest of the night.

It is the first rule of the murder play that each death must be rationalized as to prepare the audience in a Greek tragedy sort of way. This production gave us twists and turns allowing us to usher each victim to their deaths. David Forsyth as the in-disguise private detective commanded the stage. He came out strong giving us a hard-bitten cop on a case but showed his cowardly side by the third act; Ted Lewis as the grief-stricken military man added a new twist by making him shell-shocked, creating a wild mad-scene for him; Dawn Barry gave a us a Hitchcockian Mrs. Brent complete with bible-belting solo all to cover her evil heart; Larry Gutman’s Dr. Armstrong was the tensest nerve specialist you will ever meet, complete with his own mad-scene done under great mood lighting of practical lights and candles; and Al Whidden’s soft-spoken almost timid Judge Wargrave masked a powerful revelation in latter moments. Whidden’s presence was solid and compelling, and the scenes with him, Doyle and Alexandra were the best of the night.

The set was a bit big for the stage impeding some of the company’s movement; the lighting, when sparse was terrific, but lost the atmosphere when up to full; the costumes implied a modernized production but did not root us exactly where, which was most likely intentional, giving us an unconfined vantage to identify.

The title of community theatre has taken a beating over the last generation or so. Happily, NCT brings us back to it’s real meaning: quality theatre and affordable prices for the cultural betterment of the community. After seeing this production and their rousing “Music Man” last season, the community is certainly better for their presence.

Max & Leo at The Met then Sunday in the Park with Pagliacci

The Bronx Opera’s spring season at Lehman College and Hofstra University

by Mitchell S. Liegh
So here’s the pitch: Max and Leo want to put on an opera. They need money so they call a gangster type to front them the bucks. He wants his two molls to be the stars. One is a tough chick covering her rough edges in furs, diamonds and phony accents, the other is a blonde glittery bimbo with plenty of chest … voice. No, this is not The Producers 2: Deep Throat Culture, this is The Bronx Opera’s 40th anniversary send-up of itself in the form of Mozart’s quickie romp, The Impresario. The production, under the direction of Ben Spierman, hands us a Carol Burnett sketch with perfect pitch. Ed Friedman and Mathew Rzomp play a Bialystock & Bloom of the classical circuit complete with sharp to-the-audience quibs by Friedman followed by high-pitched exclamations and innuendos by Rzomp. It is a tribute to the actors that the oldest of jokes seemed perfect in this setting. The boys were almost outshined by a terrific performance by Gary Giardina as the corporate capo with a taste for the sopranos – pardon the pun. And as the sopranos: two excellent actresses with really impressive pipes. Katherine Wessinger teased the audience more than her hair with her dumb-blonde take on the second mistress wowing them with her lovely voice, but Nicole Lee Aiossa wins the night as the grande dam of the opera complete with rapid-fire delivery and a genuinely beautiful and enthralling voice.

The back stage set seemed too bare and would have been helped if maybe we saw the lighting instruments thereby making the excellent lighting seem part of the action.

Laugh at all the demeaning comments made in the translation (also by Spierman) about The Bronx Opera and then go home and think about it. Clever very clever.

The second of the double bill was Pagliacci, utilizing the stage wonderfully as the theatre was transformed into a band shell somewhere in a borough park. The story of Pagliacci, which comes straight from a police desk blotter as the playbill synopsis implies, fitting perfectly into the modernized translation. A few moments of suspension of disbelief are needed but nothing that stops the enjoyment or the story.

This highly recognizable opera tells us of a commedia style theatre troupe and the lead performer’s discovery of his cheating wife. The eventual accusation and grim finale is played out “on stage” during one of the free shows. Considering its era and its “ripped from the headlines” nature, it seems to fit with France’s Grand Guignol of the same era.

Roger Ohlsen delivers a terrific performance as the clown with the broken heart. His rendition of the opera’s famed aria was breathtaking.  Matthew Rzomp returns and stands out in this piece in the somewhat thankless role of Beppe; Jenny Searles and Jeremy Moore played the conspiring lovers brilliantly. Moore’s inner character life made his presence undeniable, even when skulking in the background. Jerett Gieseler opened the show for us and then became the undesirable Tonio filled with leers and shifty-eyed glances.

The company double-casts its works and word is the standouts of the other cast are Kirsten Chambers as Nedda, the unfaithful spouse, and Juan Jose Ibarra as the damaged Tonio. Accolades on the entire production were made but special mention goes to these two.

The production scheme implies that this company brings gorgeous works to those who cannot normally afford to see them… and they are beloved for it. Cry at the pagliacco’s pain, and then go home and think about it. Clever very clever.