A foreboding retired judge. A gullible, slightly timid doctor. A dignified parlor man. An old, ruthlessly religious woman. These are only a few of the ten strangers dining in an island mansion, all of them invited there by a mysterious U.N. Owen. A record begins to play, and the unseen host begins to accuse each visitant of hiding a guilty secret. Not long after, a guest dies—the first of many. This is the opening of And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s successful play based on her hugely popular 1939 novel Ten Little Indians. It’s the finale of the Waterworks Players’ 2016-17 season. It’s also a coming-full-circle for its director, Scott Chapman.
“There are two important questions to ask any director,” Chapman told me in a recent interview. “Why this show? And why now? First, people love murder mysteries, and they really love Agatha Christie. And second, I have a deeply personal reason for wanting to direct this play. The show is like being in an escape room—the goal is to find out ‘who did it’ before they’re all knocked off. The characters feel each other out, seek alliances. It’s kind of like Survivor: ‘All I gotta do is last till morning.’”
As a young boy growing in Buffalo, New York, Scott first encountered Christie’s work as a high school freshman. One of the books on his summer reading list was Ten Little Indians; he was transfixed by both the characters and plot. High school was also where his interest in theatre took root. Lancaster, a nearby suburb, featured an opera house—“kind of a bridge between community theatre and semi-professional theatre”—and it was there that he saw The Mystery Company perform And Then There Were None. “I’d read the novel, and now I’d seen the play. I thought to myself, ‘I need to do this show.’”
Theatre, and “this show” in particular, followed Chapman to college. Early in his freshman year at the University of Buffalo he learned that The Mystery Company needed an assistant stage manager for its production of Dracula. He applied for the job, got it, and during his college career was involved in six theatrical productions with them. His last show? And Then There Were None.
Scott’s circle began closing in 2013, when he joined Longwood University’s theatre department as its scenic designer. Fast forward to 2016, and multiple lighting designs at Waterworks under his belt, when Chris Klinger asked him: “If you had a chance to direct, what play would you choose?” Scott’s choice was obvious. What crystalized his choice was a 2015 BBC three-part miniseries production of Christie’s play. “It was absolutely amazing,” he said. “The production was top notch, of course, but what really excited me was the ending.” When Christie adapted Ten Little Indians for the stage she changed the novel’s grim ending to a “happy” one. Her grandson allowed the play’s producers to use the original novel ending, the first filmed version to do so. “It’s much more satisfying to me. It’s truer to the story as a whole,” Chapman said.
“Full circle” applies to Chapman’s assistant director as well. Caitlin Mazura, one of his students and a recent Longwood graduate, played Emily Brent in high school, and did her senior thesis on And Then There Were None. “I need to be part of this somehow,” she told him when she learned that Christie’s play was going to be on the Players’ 2016-17 docket. “She’s been great,” he said. “She helps with the blocking, working with the actors on mannerisms, running some rehearsals, and she makes sure the cast is off book.”
Mazura’s presence is doubly a godsend for Chapman: he’s also the lighting designer for Wolfbane Productions this summer, doing three shows in Appomattox—Romeo and Juliet, Evil Dead The Musical, and The Rocky Horror Show—between early June through the end of September. “Yeah, I’ve been busy,” he grinned. “Rehearsals here from 7:00-10:00 Sunday through Thursday, plus my work for Wolfbane. And my wife Jessica and I are expecting a baby in September. But the cast has been enthusiastic—very professional—and we’ve had a good amount of prep time: auditions in early May, a first read through in mid-May, and then almost a month to learn lines before rehearsals began. And I’ve got a great creative team. They really help bring the visual world of the play to life onstage.”
In addition to Scott and Caitlin, that team consists of Moffatt Evans as Scenic Designer; Linda Rofe, Costume Designer; Leigh Lunsford, Production Manager; and Hannah Boswell, Stage Manager. Doing double duty are Scott as Lighting Designer and Stephanie Piscitelli, one of the cast members, as Assistant Stage Manager.
The eleven-member ensemble cast is a mixture of Waterworks regulars and newcomers. Vera Claythorne (“She’s kind of the ingénue”) and Philip Lombard (“He’s confident, mysterious”), the closest in this cast to leading lady and leading man, are played by Kolby Grimsley and Greg Tsigaridas, respectively. Piscitelli is Winifred Narracott (“She senses something fishy early on”); Thomas and Ethel Rodgers (“The hired help”) are Randall Linkins and Meagan Morrissey, respectively. Elijah Logue is Anthony Marston (“Kind of a frat boy with a cool car”). Billy Tucker is William Blore (“We can’t say he’s a detective, but . . .”). Mike Montgomery plays
General Mackenzie (“An old World War I vet”); Marie Schroeder plays Emily Brent (“Middle-aged, stuck up, no one likes her”). Rounding out the cast are Jordan Whiley as Judge Wargrave (“Highly intelligent, a commanding personality”) and Don Blaheta as Dr. Armstrong (“An ex-surgeon, fussy, good-looking”).
“If you come to this show,” Chapman said, with another grin, “you’ll see an ending you’ve never seen before.”
And Then There Were None runs August 4th-5th and 11th-12th at 8:00 p.m. For tickets, consult The Waterworks Players website or call 392-3452.