The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 21, 2013

MSU's Agatha Christie murder mystery opens today

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — Since it’s an Agatha Christie mystery, the following statements about Minnesota State University’s upcoming production of “And Then There Were None” should be spoiler-free:

Characters will die. They will die early, and they will die often.

In fact, “And Then There Were None” features the highest body count of any of Christie’s stage adaptations. And MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance won’t be hiding any of it offstage.

Director and MSU theatre instructor Heather Hamilton said observant audience members will see all the clues for themselves. She said even those not familiar with Christie’s 1939-book-turned-1943-play may be able to deduce whose villainy is behind the murders of 10 mysterious guests at a mansion on Soldier Island.

“Those who don’t already know the story could figure it out,” she said. “We’ve got all the clues in there. Nothing happens offstage.”

The book version of “And Then There Were None” remains the best-selling novel by the world’s best-selling author not named Shakespeare. The play version, adapted by Christie herself, forgoes some of the psychological intensity of the book, but sacrifices none of the suspense.

The play opens with 10 individuals invited to a mansion off the coast of Devon, England. Each is coaxed under different pretenses, but all are similar in one respect: Each of them is guilty of some past transgression — though, many of the characters refuse to acknowledge their culpability.

When the characters arrive at the mansion, they find 10 soldier statuettes on the mantel. As each guest is felled by the murderer, so too are the statuettes. A nursery rhyme explains each of the deaths as the guests succumb to their fates.

“It’s such a fun script,” Hamilton said of Christie’s play, which is making its MSU debut. “We’re not trying to do anything new or different with it.”

Hamilton further said MSU’s production is intended to be “period appropriate” — which meant costume designer Angela Sahli had some research to do.

Even before casting auditions were held last fall, the third-year master’s degree student in costume design was poring over 1940s-era Sears catalogs and historical photos. By the time roles were chosen, Sahli had already developed a series of color swatches and costume profiles for each of the characters.

For the eight male roles, she adhered to the commonly held image of period attire with men in broad shoulders and colors that reflected the decade’s ominous wartime milieu. To help distinguish the characters, suits and color combinations are consistently styled.

For the three female roles, Sahli and her team built costumes from the ground up. After Sahli’s sketches were pieced and sewn together in MSU’s costume design shop, alterations were made on the actresses themselves.

The result is a series of stunning, yet historically accurate costumes that enrich the audience’s understanding of the character.

For instance, the self-righteous and caustic Emily Brent is portrayed in angular, unflattering lines and stiff materials. In contrast, the younger and more feminine Vera Claythorne is outfitted in a breezy, short-sleeved dress.

“I start with the personality of the character and what you want the audience to feel when they meet that character,” said Sahli, who previously designed costumes for “A Chorus Line” and “Rent.” Her work on “And Then There Were None” represents her thesis project. “The women’s costumes were really a lot of fun.”

Hamilton further complimented the work of student scene designer Mary Jane Olson, whose box set spans the entire width of the stage and was carefully constructed to avoid obstructed sight lines. Fellow student Curtis Fliegel served as the sound designer.