Alibi V.27 No.16 • April 19-25, 2018 

Theater Review

Death and Coffee

Adobe Theater's Black Coffee satisfies the craving for traditional noir

Nick Fleming and Dehron Foster
Nick Fleming and Dehron Foster in Agatha Christie's Black Coffee
Adobe Theater

“Poignant human drama,” is what Hercule Poirot declares to be afoot at the manor of the Amory's, an uppity British family, who—of course—have a lot more coursing through their lives than is outwardly apparent. Everything frothing under the surface is revealed in due time by our clever detective Poirot in this classic Agatha Christie thriller—her first play ever penned for the stage.

Christie wrote more than 60 novels, and her play The Mousetrap has been running continuously on London's West End for more than 50 years. A penchant for big reveals, atmospherics and the unsuspected runs through much of Christie's work and has set the bar for classic mystery fictions—this production at Adobe Theater (9813 Fourth Street NW) certainly satisfies the itch for such vintage noir.

The play opens with practically the whole cast of characters stalking through the library of the estate and out again, using the small set well and immediately—purely through movement—familiarizing us with the players in the crime drama. This is our first hint at director Mario Cabrera's skill in executing the work, and more delightfully surface throughout.

The first whodunit of the fun escapade are plans that go missing for a very valuable formula developed by the patriarch of the Amory family, Sir Claud. The play is set in the early ’30s, and as whispers of war circulate the world over, Sir Claud has developed a weapon that could kill millions—and as such, it is worth its weight in royal pounds. Though the invention in question has global implications, the dramas that unfold around it are intimate and familial. When Sir Claud slumps over dead after the whole house has gathered and the lights are snuffed, the plot, inevitably, thickens.

In comes Hercule Poirot, Christie's most famous character, who ducks his mustached head into both novels and plays by the writer. In this particular production, Dehron Foster assumes the role of the clever detective whose “little grey cells,” wade through the red herrings to strike upon the truth. Foster fits Christie's descriptions of the Belgian detective and plays him admirably, stealing every scene that he's written into. Foster subtly plays up the laughs to be had at the cost of the starched upper crust family, while still maintaining a certain tenderness that has made the character of Poirot so sweet and endearing in so much of Christie's catalog.

The rest of the cast is just as capable, though Foster is undeniably the centerpiece of the action. Sarah Runyan's untraditional flapper in bright red lipstick is a breath of fresh air, as is Terri Rossi's depiction of silly old biddie Miss Caroline Amory.

The play could be called so many things—mystery, love story, thriller, romantic comedy—and it is, actually, all those things. Amid the unchanging—though well-dressed—set, a multitude of these “poignant human dramas” play out, each artfully moving the story forward and fleshing out the characters and their motives. Suspects abound and part of the fun of settling into the audience at the recently renovated theater is drawing our own conclusions as the story unfolds, though we may always be a step behind Poirot.

However we categorize the play, and whether we are Christie fans or not, what we are treated to in this rendition of a classic, though little produced play is a genuinely enjoyable piece of theater. Adobe Theater's Black Coffee creates the appropriate mood, renders its characters nicely and doles out clues artfully. It is well worth a watch during its tenure through May 6 at the North Valley theater. Tickets and more information can be found online at adobetheater.org.