Edward Raynor (Peter Krause, above left) is interrogated by the great detective Hercule Poirot (Todd Andrew Ball, right) in Agatha Christie’s intriguing murder mystery “Black Coffee,” now playing at the Santa Paula Theater Center.

SPTC presents Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee”

July 06, 2011
Santa Paula News

Murder and Intrigue take the stage when Agatha Christie’s delightful whodunit “Black Coffee” opens at the Santa Paula Theater Center on Friday, July 8 at 8 p.m. “Black Coffee” is Agatha Christie’s first staged mystery and the only one to feature her most memorable character, Hercule Poirot.

The plotline is classic Christie, with a group of people gathered in an English manor house where someone meets an untimely demise and all present are suspects in the murder.

Sir Claude Amory’s formula for a powerful new explosive has been stolen, presumably by a member of his large household. Sir Claude assembles his suspects in the library and locks the door, instructing them that when the lights go out, the formula must be replaced on the table — and no questions will be asked. But when the lights come on, Sir Claude is dead. Now Hercule Poirot, assisted by Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp, must unravel a tangle of family feuds, old flames, and suspicious foreigners to find the killer and prevent a global catastrophe.

Agatha Christie was a remarkable creator of mysteries. She had made her debut as a crime novelist in 1920 with “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” in which she introduced her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. By 1930, Poirot had appeared in four more novels and several short stories. 

It was probably because of her dissatisfaction with “Alibi”, the play that someone else had made out of one of those novels, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” that Mrs. Christie decided to try her hand at putting Poirot on the stage in a play of her own. “Black Coffee” was a success at the Embassy Theatre in 1930 and opened the following April in the West End of London at the St. Martin’s Theatre, where it ran for many months.

Under the direction of Fred Helsel, SPTC’s production will feature Todd Andrew Ball as Inspector Poirot, with Ventura County favorite Ronald Rezac as his faithful sidekick Captain Hastings.  Jerry Nehring returns to SPTC’s stage as Sir Claude Amory, with Leslie Nichols as his sister, Miss Caroline Amory, and Erin Hollander as niece Barbara Amory. Isaac Deakyn appears as Sir Claude’s son Richard Amory, with Morgan Bozarth as Richard’s wife Lucia. Joining Detective Poirot’s crime solving team are Doug Friedlander as Scotland Yard Inspector Japp and Nelson Fox as Constable Johnson. Rounding out the cast are Elixeo Flores as the mysterious Dr. Carelli, Peter Krause as Sir Claude’s assistant Edward Raynor, Keith High as family physician Dr. Graham, and Andrea Robles and Suzi Skutley alternating as the Amory’s housekeeper Mrs. Tredwell.

Leslie Nichols and Fred Helsel will produce “Black Coffee” with Mike Carnahan handling the scenic design and Barbara Pedziwiatr as costumer. Gary Richardson is the lighting designer, with Karl Krause as stage manager and technical assistance by Cole Phelps.

“Black Coffee” plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. from July 8 through August 14 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th Street. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $12 for children, and can be reserved by calling (805) 525-4645 or visiting www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.

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