The Oswego Playhouse's new production, is without a doubt one of the best shows to come out of the Playhouse in the last year.
The Agatha Christie thriller is brought to life by director Daina Giesler and a cast of veteran Oswego Playhouse actors. Beautiful costumes by Barb Alexander and picturesque sets by Julie Kinsey augment the performances to carry the audience to the sultry shores of this queen of all rivers.
The 12-person cast works hard to weave a spell of mystery and passion. The action takes place on a Nile river tour boat during the early 20th century. Among the passengers are newlyweds Kay and Simon Mostyn. Kay, formerly Kay Middleton, inherited a mammoth fortune when her father died years before.
Her fortune is a sticking point for Simon who was a pauper before his marriage. Kay's wealth isn't the only fly in the ointment poisoning the couple's honeymoon. They have been stalked across Europe and the Middle East by Jacqueline De Severac, Kay's former best friend and jilted fiance of Simon.
The couple joins the cruise upriver in hopes of giving Jacqueline the slip, but, of course, she finds them. As the trip gets underway, Kay is distraught, Simon is proud, angry and worried while Jacqueline is pleasant, vengeful and unstable.
As it turns out, Jacqueline isn't the only one on board with a grudge against the rich and spoiled Kay. There is William Smith, the armchair socialist and wise-cracker who seems to have it in for all the over-privileged of the world. Kay's trusted guardian is a pleasant surprise. He has faithfully protected Kay's fortune, or has he? Louise, Kay's maid is more devoted to flirting and making money than she is to her mistress. The question quickly changes from who wants to kill Kay to who doesn't?
The Death on the Nile cast is a fine group of actors with some hidden gems among the cast. The central triangle of Kay, Simon and Jackie is the dynamic that holds the entire show together. Kay (Jacqueline Schultz) is a strong, imperious, over-indulged young woman. Schultz plays the kind-hearted spoiled brat to the hilt. Chris McKenna plays the passionate, doting husband.
McKenna's portrayal is more doting than passionate, but that is not surprising in an April/December marriage. Beth Goncher is very good portraying jilted Jacqueline De Severac as a passionate woman who enjoys life and is enjoying vengeance even more. Goncher's cold vengeance has trouble making the transition to hatred and hysteria when her vengeance turns hot.
As with most Agatha Christie stories, the supporting characters are just as interesting as the central figures. Miss. ffoliot-foulkes (with two small 'f's, if you please), is the other rich society lady on the boat. The bossy, bullying lady is played with brisk energy and an imperious attitude by Jacquie Weirick.
Miss. ff's cousin, the humble Christina is carried off with charm and sweetness by Barb Alexander. One of the strongest male character is William Smith. The wise-cracking cynic is made genial and refreshing by Jeff Pripusich. When Smith begins to pursue the shy and conventional Christina, the audience is hoping the dashing young man will win the older lady's heart.
Perhaps the most complex of the supporting cast is Cannon Pennefather. The parson has a venial side and, possibly, a corrupt side, but he still believes in his faith and tries hard to advise all the troubled souls on board with wisdom and sincerity.
Played by Regis Snyder, Pennefather stirs the audience with his passionate entries and fierce denunciations despite his occasional groping for the right words. Quiet Dr. Bessner (Bruce Wotherl) surprises the audience with the fierceness of his bitterness toward Kay's long dead father.
Of all the relationships amid the troubled passengers, the clearest and most honest is the relationship of Louise, the maid, to her money. She is very clear that that is what she loves and she'll sell anything to get more including the name of the murderer.
Rounding out the cast are the Steward and The Beadseller. Played by Joseph Mennella and Cole Perkins respectively, both minor characters provide major- league comic relief.
The fine acting of the show is hampered by the cramped stage in the tiny theatre. Director, Daina Giesler admits that the small stage is a directoral challenge.
“It is a key consideration when looking at scripts,” she said. “We only have one entrance and no set change possible. I have to keep that in mind.”
In Death on the Nile the staging usually overcomes the challenge of the small space, but sometimes it falls short. Occasionally the small space locks the actors into one place for paragraphs and paragraphs of dialogue. Furthermore, less cramped staging might have increased the drama of the climatic scene.
The final three stagings of the show are this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 6:30 p.m., while Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. with doors opening at 12:30 p.m. Shows are staged at 123 W. Washington, below the in downtown Oswego.