A Double Dose of Agatha Christie at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo “The Rats” & “The Wasp’s Nest”
Opening their sixteenth season, Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo MN has put together a wonderful treat of a show featuring two one act plays by the Queen of Crime Dame Agatha Christie. They are delightful little mysteries that are sure to please fans of Christie’s work. Director Austene Van doesn’t content herself with simply staging the plays though, she plays up the double feature aspect with some very fun additions. Opening with a B&W projection of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” animation that used to play in movie theaters followed by previews of coming attractions (title cards for the rest of the theatre’s season) and then a studio logo for Yellow Tree Theatre thats a parody of the classic MGM logo. It’s a winning touch that sets the stage for a trip to the past in which the Actors aren’t afraid to ham it up a little bit and have fun with these whodunnits. A fun cast that seems like they stepped out of a 1940’s Hollywood thriller and one of the best Poirot Performances I’ve seen on stage.
First up, The Rats in which a man and woman are lured to the flat of some friends for drinks, only to discover that the friends are out of the country. Nothing is what it seems and suspicions about who is there and why, keep getting proven and disproven. It’s a cunning little puzzle that even when you think you know what’s happening, you still are not sure why. The second one act features Christie’s most famous character Hercule Poirot. Poirot shows up at the country estate of an old friend not to solve a crime but to prevent one. It’s a new approach for the man with the little grey cells, but as he points out, what better way to investigate a crime than to do so before it occurs, and thus, possibly prevent it. Christie displays in both pieces her trademark talent for concocting ingenious plots, here in stripped down and concise simplicity they are like perfect little crime confections. She also displays a clever wit that we see more often in her stage plays than in her novels and short stories, showing her understanding of the differences in the mediums.
A fun cast that seems like they stepped out of a 1940’s Hollywood thriller and one of the best Poirot Performances I’ve seen on stage.
I love the approach the actors took, following through on the promise of the opening projections and giving it the golden age of Hollywood approach. Particularly adept and featuring the classical features of say a young Vincent Price is Christopher Kehoe, who has prominent roles in both plays. Kehoe shows he is in on the game with some arched eyebrows and seems always prepared for a glossy photograph to be taken for an issue of Hollywood Stars magazine. Maggie Cramer and Tara Borman are wonderfully catty bringing out some excellent laughs in The Rats playing “friends”. Paul LaNave plays two wildly different roles in The Rats he plays it just this side of Snidely Whiplash, as a man so obviously up to no good, that the audience almost feels compelled to make a citizen’s arrest. In The Wasp’s Nest he is a much more subdued character making his motivations much less clear, which suits the piece perfectly. And last but certainly not least is Charles Fraser as Hercule Poirot. Fraser has a great accent that adds moments of humor based on just the cadence of his speech. It’s a quick turn in the role, but he looks, sounds, and plays the part to a tea.
Technically the show is everything you’ve come to expect from Yellow Tree which is a little theatre that never puts on a little show. The set design by Justin Hooper is a perfect example. For the first act, it’s a modern (1940’s) London flat, that looks quite elegant and posh. For the second act, it’s transformed into the garden of a country estate. Yes the stage crew works for the entire intermission to make the change but it’s a very effective transformation. Helping to complete the transformations are some wonderful touches from the Lighting Designer Kathy Maxwell and Sound Designer and Composer Jeff Bailey. I also wanted to highlight the the costumes by Jacourtney Mountain-Bluhm, I particularly like Poirot’s suit, it reminded me of the illustration of Poirot on a book my Dad had when I was young, a hardcover that collected several Poirot Novels.
If you saw the production of Christie’s Rule of Thumb in the summer of 2019 at Park Square than you’ve seen these two one acts before. I had, but four years and hundreds of plays later, I luckily had forgotten the solutions to the mysteries. If you are a Christie fan or just a fan of old movies or mysteries in general, you will find much to recommend this double feature of The Rats & The Wasp’s Nest. The show runs through October 29th at Yellow Tree Theatre, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://yellowtreetheatre.com/agathachristie
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Photo credit: Tom Wallace