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Uneven performances keep Jewel Box's murder mystery on life support



Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, "And Then There Were None" tells the story of 10 strangers lured to an isolated island home off the coast of England, by a mysterious stranger known as Mr. Owen. In a prerecorded message, Owen accuses each of the strangers of being guilty of murders for which they went unpunished, until now.

Prominently displayed in the set, but with print still too small for the audience to really read, is a poem titled "Ten Little Soldier Boys," which details Mr. Owen's planned fates for his guests. Under the plaque, 10 soldier figurines are lined up, each one representing one of the accused. Both the poem and the figurines are used to great effect to move the story forward and to create some fun suspense, but up front, the play is a bit of a mess, mainly due to some really mixed performances.

It doesn't take long for the murders to begin, and once people start dying, the play picks up steam. By the beginning of Act 2, the pared-down cast does a better job of taking on the material, but it's not enough to save the play from a confusingly staged and rather unsatisfying conclusion.

Dana Palmer makes an impression early on as maid Mrs. Rogers, and has the distinction of being one of only a few in the cast with a convincing English accent. Craig Rauch is serviceable as the amusingly effeminate, yet take-charge Judge Wargrave. As Mr. Blore, Marcus Wade stumbles through his lines and a bad South African accent until he trades up for what sounds like plain-old American, after which his delivery improves greatly. Larry Harris has a pretty limited range in the role of Gen. MacKenzie, but is truly threatening when he confesses his crimes.

As the brash young Anthony Marston, Luke Miller gives a very affected surface performance with lots of behavioral flourishes, but isn't around long enough for it to amount to some depth. He has some great moments opposite Scott Hynes, as adventurer Capt. Philip Lombard, as both attempt to move in on attractive secretary Vera Claythorne, played by Crystal Ecker.

Along with Michael Cross as nervous nerve specialist Dr. Armstrong and Amy Ackerman as religious fanatic Emily Brent, Hynes and Ecker deliver the most dynamic performances. Hynes' accent is a little soft, but he's engaging, has great chemistry with Ecker and completely delivers on the fearlessness and charm of Lombard. Ecker's portrayal of Claythorne is layered and full of regret with just enough mystery to keep you guessing as to her true motivations.

Cross does the best job of anyone in the cast of portraying the stress and fatigue of their characters' ordeal in Act 2, performances all rendered with a consistent and believable accent. Ackerman also nails her accent in her horrifying portrayal of cruel and unrepentant holier-than-thou super-bitch Emily Blunt.

"And Then There Were None" is a good effort with some fun moments, but fails to deliver as a whole.

And Then There Were None stages at 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 2:30 Sunday through Oct. 25 at Jewel Box Theatre, First Christian Church, 3700 N. Walker.

"?Eric Webb


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