SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday night I attended by first production at the Sugar Space just off 7th East, a performance space I’ve been hearing a lot about. The theatre itself is actually a lot bigger than I would have guessed from the foyer. It’s a good sized space; if anything, it could probably do with more seating. The production happening there now is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile, staged by Titus Productions and directed by Jake Andersen.
I love Agatha Christie. She wrote hundreds of twisted stories (there’s a double meaning there), some of them rather grisly. And though a number of them have similar elements, they always keep you guessing. Murder on the Nile is no exception.
The play has quite a few eccentric characters who, in traditional Christie style, first present themselves as strangers but whose lives, it turns out, actually intersect in shocking ways. At the center of this particular whodunnit is actress Kay Ridgeway Mostyn (Serra Willis), the wealthiest woman in England. To the surprise and dismay of her fans, Kay has recently married the penniless Simon Mostyn (Michael Chestnut) a young man far below her in social standing. The couple, recognized wherever they go, are taking a honeymoon cruise aboard the Lotus, a ship that cruises the Nile. Also on the Lotus are renowned novelist Salome Ottoman (Rachael Rasmussen) and her daughter Christina (Olivia Osborne). Though wealthy herself, Salome is on the brink of a slander lawsuit brought against her by Kay; if the case carries, Salome will lose everything. Kay’s mistreated maid Louise (Devin Johnson) is on board, as is a doctor whose reputation was ruined by Kay’s father (Lorrinda Christen), as well as Kay’s uncle, Ambrose Pennefeather, a canon in the Anglican church.
Last to board the ship is Jacqueline de Severac (Amber Avery), Kay’s former best friend and, we discover, Simon’s former fiancee. How’s that for a plot thickener? Jacqueline, it seems, can’t quite forgive Kay or get over Simon and has followed them all the way to Egypt on their honeymoon. You may have guessed that Kay is the one who ends up dead. As to who did it, well… Christie packs the Lotus full of possible motives, and I won’t spoil the ending, but some may find the killer to be as surprising as Kay’s whirlwind wedding.
The play and the production both have their flaws. Murder on the Nile is not Christie’s best, full of obvious red (pink?) herrings and pointless characters. As far as the show goes, the acting is rough around the edges, tipping Christie’s dated script into the realm of melodrama. I felt like I was being yelled at most of the evening; sometimes the volume was a valiant attempt at projection, but mostly it was an unnecessary expression of emotion. Accents also tended to get in the way of things.
Stand-outs the cast include Rachel Rasmussen, whose portrayal of the tipsy Salome always won a chuckle. Though he doesn’t look the least bit Egyptian and is probably half the size of everyone else in the show, 8th grader Nate Andersen is a firecracker as the Lotus’s Steward, serving drinks and bossing the crew. I was impressed by the number of high and junior high schoolers in the cast (and even running the show’s tech).
This was my first experience with Titus Productions. My impression is that they are family-oriented theatre group out to have fun with a classic Christie caper. The production experience among the cast differs, and there is a range of ages represented. This community theatre outing in particular is attached to a fine cause: all proceeds from this weekend’s performances will help a local family whose young father is being treated for cancer; if you are interested in learning more or making a donation, I’ve included a link to Titus’s Facebook page below in the info box.
Did the show have the gleam and polish of a professional show? No. Walking in and seeing the set, my first thought was that I was in the wrong place, that I had wandered into someone’s wedding reception. Could this be the 1950’s? Maybe kinda sorta. But hey—a group of family and friends got together and put on a show, and for a good cause, to boot. That takes guts and passion. Who am I to get in the way of that?