by Marilyn Thiele
Hello everyone. You may have forgotten me, although my picture still lingers in the sidebar of the Dead Guy blog. I notice that my “position” has changed from “every other Saturday” to “some Saturdays.” Even that was very optimistic. I had reached a point where it was difficult to find new topics to write about, and Saturdays (and even the day before) are just too busy in the bookshop for any concentrated focus on a blog post. It seems that as I have aged, the practice of staying up into the wee hours to write has also become impossible, at least if I am going to produce anything coherent. I should probably have requested to leave the blog (or for a definitive leave of absence), but hope springs eternal, and I thought I would get back into the routine. When the option of blogging earlier in the week opened with Josh’s departure, I realized it was an opportunity for a fresh start. So shortly my photo will be labeled “every other Tuesday” or “some Tuesdays,” depending on whether Jeff is as hopeful as I am.
On the plus side, in the time I have been silent, some events have occurred which give rise to new ideas. I also plan to talk more about books I am reading. My January review of 2016’s list yielded 60 books read during the year, most of them crime fiction. I see that Lynne Patrick has plans to discuss books also (Books, books and more books) and I have no desire to challenge her position as “designated reader.” In fact, her posts are often the source for the best additions to my own reading list. I doubt there will be much overlap, however, since there seem to be an ever-increasing number of great books to talk about.
I’m going to tread a bit more on Lynne’s territory by discussing an experience with theater that I had last year. I’m not a great theater-goer, but I like to support local arts venues. I was thrilled last fall when the publicist for the theater at the local community college asked if I would help them. They present plays regularly by traveling troupes of actors, and thought they might increase attendance with some “value-added” material related to the show. In this case, it was a performance of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile, and they wondered if I would give a talk on Agatha Christie or some related material. Hah! Give me a chance to talk about the Golden Age!
Of course, once I had enthusiastically agreed, I remembered how terrified I am of public speaking. Nonetheless, I prepared my talk and took deep breaths and hoped I could make it through the requested fifteen minutes. The audience was anticipated to be 10 or 15; we kept bringing in chairs, until we maxed out at 50. More cause for nerves, but it was wonderful to see that much interest in the topic. As usual, once I started talking, you couldn’t shut me up, and I had to stop after 30 minutes so everyone could get to the theater next door. We even raffled off a copy of Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder (which I highly recommend to those interested in those wonderful years of classic detection and The Detection Club). There were many questions, and I was pleased to see so much curiosity about what I thought might be a little too old-fashioned for these times.
Unfortunately, old-fashioned does not describe the rendition of Agatha Christie’s work to which we were then subjected. The theater seats 300, and it was close to full. Another score for interest in the classical mystery! It would have been nice to have that interest satisfied.
Christie was adept at introducing a seemingly vast number of characters, most, if not all, of whom were potential murderers. In adapting her novel Death on the Nile into the play Murder on the Nile, she combined some characters and eliminated others, realizing that the numbers were too many for any realistic stage play. Still, it is a large cast. The company visiting our local college consisted of three actors. I have seen many small theater productions with a limited number of actors where clever costuming and timing of appearances on stage made the performance work. Here, the problem was handled by what I suppose in today’s language is called a “meta-play.” It is London, during the Blitz, not the 1930s in Egypt. The set is a radio station presenting Dame Agatha’s work as a radio play, but bombing (noise in background, dimming lights) has kept several actors away. The three in attendance attempt to cover all of the parts, and the audience is “helped” to follow the chaos by the use of various hats, each indicating a player in the drama. Any of the actors use any of the hats; thus we have each of the actors as each of the characters at some point.
Amusing at first, the action soon became incomprehensible. I had just reread the novel, and was totally confused about which character was which, and what was going on. It dissolved into three actors running around switching hats and hurriedly mouthing lines before they had to become someone else.
At intermission, I looked at my husband and asked if he wanted to stay. Saint that he is, thinking that mysteries are my cup of tea, he said yes. When I said I’d had enough, he smiled gratefully. We adjourned to the parking lot to discuss dinner plans; as we talked, I noticed more and more people coming outside, not to enjoy the lovely afternoon, but to find their cars. We were not the only ones disappointed in our hopes to see a classic play.
I was disappointed not just for myself, but for the lost opportunity to show a bit of classic detection to those who may not be familiar with it. The theater-goers who are familiar with Christie’s work will know that this ensemble had not done her justice. I hope those unfamiliar will not give up on her. And at least 50 people got a better understanding of the classic period of mystery before the performance.
The previous year, we attended a performance of Cabaret at a small theater just across the river in Pennsylvania. The “artistic director” was known to be creative, but I felt he created the show I was familiar with right out of existence (well, except for the music). As I said earlier, I’m not a regular theater-goer and don’t keep up with what’s happening in this area of the arts. I just enjoy a good show. Is taking a well-known work and “re-creating” it a new trend? Am I so old-fashioned in wanting to appreciate the original work and not the director’s “take” on it? I think it may be time to just watch the old films when I want to see Hercule.