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Theatre review Murder on the Nile at Long Beach Playhouse

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Vicki Paris Goodman
Culture Writer

The plots of Agatha Christie’s suspense thrillers are much like those of other, less famous, whodunits. Except most of Christie’s plays take place in fabulous settings that inspire the imagination. An aura of exotic mystery always lends a certain flare, and the character-driven Murder on the Nile delivers such ambience in spades.
The Long Beach Playhouse deserves praise for creating the mood and personalities that bring the playwright’s intent to life while employing a strictly amateur cast.
Set in the stifling hot central “saloon” observation area of a paddle steamer cruising the Nile, the play centers around the newly wed Simon (David Tracq) and Kay (Lexington Vanderberg). The stunningly beautiful Kay is an heiress for whom Simon ended his relationship with Jacqueline (Jamie Sowers).
In unsettling fashion, the jilted Jackie has been turning up in many of the same places as Simon and Kay including this, their honeymoon cruise. Is it mere coincidence? Or is Jackie stalking the couple out of wicked revenge?
Also along for the ride are Kay’s longtime guardian, Canon Pennefather (Gregory Cohen), Kay’s lady’s maid Louise (Laura Clagett), a German physician (Wilhelm Peters), the mysterious Mr. Smith (Lee Samuel Tanng) and the self-involved and shockingly insensitive Miss Ffoliot-Ffoulkes (Jane Nunn) accompanied by her obedient niece Christina (Kellee Elizabeth).
There are no weak links in director Sharyn Case’s winning cast. But there are stand-outs. Sowers’ Jackie manages to seem both disinterested and desperate, alternating between the two extremes on a dime. Her fiendish laugh at first gives her away, and then we’re not sure. She seems a poor second to the lovely Kay but is, on second thought, more interesting and engaging.
The no-nonsense Pennyfather feels a bit stiff as delivered by Cohen. Yet Cohen renders him a worthy observer and an even worthier sleuth. Still, we would expect him to exhibit more emotion when the play’s promised murder takes place.
Tanng is winning me over with every Playhouse performance he gives. This may be his best. His Smith is at once cagey and sociable, intelligent and charming. He is self-confident but not at all narcissistic. He sees more than meets the eye in the cheerful Christina. Will he successfully woo her?
As for the story, suffice it to say there are gunshots, the inevitable murder, multiple twists and turns, and an ending that some might even predict. Although no one would guess the means. No one, that is, except Pennefather.
Bead sellers, played by Ahmed Baagil and Jerome Loeb, annoy the passengers as they board the boat. And Loeb doubles as the rather foolish and unhelpful Captain McNaught. The hard-working ship’s steward is well played by Robert Agiu.
This Murder on the Nile succeeds with a distinctly community theater vibe. That’s one of the best things about it. The next best things are Donna Fritsche’s excellent costumes and Drew Otero’s to-die-for set design. I’ve never been to Egypt, but after seeing this absorbing production, I feel like I’ve sailed the Nile.

Murder on the Nile continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through Feb. 14. General-admission tickets are $24, senior tickets are $21, and student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014, option 1, for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .

Courtesy LBPH Jamie Sowers as Jacqueline in Long Beach Playhouse's production of Murder on the Nile

Courtesy LBPH
Jamie Sowers as Jacqueline in Long Beach Playhouse’s production of Murder on the Nile

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Theatre review Murder on the Nile at Long Beach Playhouse