Long before Miss Scarlett in the billiard room with the rope and Col. Mustard in the library with the lead pipe, there was Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
“It’s the first cabin-in-the-woods mystery ever written,” said actor Brent Merrill, “the very first of all the suspense and horror books where a group of people goes to a far-off place and start dying.”
“And Then There Were None” is the most read book of all time behind the Bible, and made Christie a best-selling novelist. It remains her most popular work, and Vermont Actors Repertory Theatre is presenting the stage adaptation, directed by Susan Gladding-Heitzman, Feb. 7-16 at College of St. Joseph’s Tuttle Hall Theater.
The cast is full of local talent, including some first-time actors and some recognizable faces, like Tom Smith, who has been acting in the area for over 40 years, and College of St. Joseph President Jennifer Scott.
I got more of an in-depth, behind-the-scenes insight of how the show is created this time because I’m stage-managing. By opening night, I will have read the script 56 times. The actors probably double that, and seeing how they and the director bring the characters to life is fascinating.
One night about halfway through the 10-week rehearsal schedule, Gladding-Heitzman asks everyone to talk about who their characters are. Interesting details and thoughtful revelations came out. Kim Olden, who plays Vera, said the root of her character’s anger is past trauma and a deep sense of empathy.
“It usually takes me a few weeks of writing out what I know about my character and using my knowledge of the show (and some creativity) to fill in the rest,” Olden said about how the process works for her. “Once I have a general feel for who my character is, I can write a backstory, which … takes a few weeks to fully implement into how I say my lines and respond to other actors in the scene.”
“I use the Stanislavski method,” added Merrill, who plays Capt. Lombard. “I find the verbs and tactics he uses, like, I want a drink with this line, I want to go to the couch with that line, things like that.”
“A lot of research, and I usually try new techniques every show,” Evan Breault, who plays Tom Rogers, said. “With this one I did some Sanford repetition — you change the inflection (of a line) every time, to develop what (it) can be.”
“Susan has a clear vision for each of the characters and for the story we’re telling, (and) blended her vision with encouraging our creativity,” Scott said.
When the show rolls out opening night, audiences are in for a treat. And the audience itself is really part of the process — which many of the actors commented on.
Breault said, “The energy between an audience and a cast is a really powerful, beautiful thing.”