Best selling mystery novelist Agatha Christie sold millions of books by sticking to a tried and true formula: stick a colorful batch of characters together, murder someone and then bring in a brilliant sleuth like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot to solve the crime.
Christie wrote Black Coffee as a play, which assembles members of the Amory family in the country estate of Sir Claud (Geoff Leatham), a brilliant scientist who has created a formula for an atom bomb. When the formula goes missing, Claud brings in Poirot to investigate. Soon after, Claud dies after drinking coffee laced with a drug. Who did it? Was it his sister Caroline (Mary Peaver)? His son Richard (Hassan Demartino)?
Richard’s wife Lucia (Veronica Strickland) becomes the prime suspect after it is revealed she has had dealings with Dr. Carrelli (Brian Olsen), who may have been blackmailing her. Poirot, along with his assistant, the rather dense Captain Hastings (Greg Bliven), question Claud’s family and associates and search for clues.
Long before Black Coffee entered its second act, I found myself not caring very much who murdered Claud. This is an exceptionally tedious story. When the murderer is finally unveiled after what seemed like an eternity, it was underwhelming to say the least. However, I was surprised by a clever trick Poirot pulls off near the climax, which I will not spoil.
The actors do the best they can with the lackluster material. Michael Jepson does an adequate job as Poirot and Strickland has some effective moments as Lucia. Michelle Mania, as the seductive and free-spirited Barbara, is also a delight. And I must admit that the show looked fantastic. David Jepson’s set design is dazzling.
The audience I was with seemed to enjoy it immensely, with one notable exception. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me had fallen asleep sometime during the show.
That perfectly sums up my reaction to Black Coffee.
Black Coffee runs through October 2. Granite Theatre. For tickets, call 401-596-2341. www.granitetheatre.com.