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Columbus company brews up revival of classic Agatha Christie mystery

Courtesy of Doug Titchenal

After vanishing from the Columbus theatre scene for nearly a quarter century, Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, “Black Coffee,” will be returning to the stage.

Bread & Circus Theatre Company will house the revival of the popular British play with the first of eight performances scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. It is located at 3103 W. Broad St. in the Westgate Arts District.

“Black Coffee,” which was produced in 1930, follows Christie’s popular detective figure Hercule Poirot and his sidekick Arthur Hastings as they look to solve a mysterious theft and murder in the home of physicist Sir Claud Amory.

“(‘Black Coffee’) was written in what is known as the Golden Age of detective fiction and detective drama,” said Alan Woods, former director of Ohio State’s Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute. “(Christie) helped to create the images we all have of what detectives are like. Literally, through the character Hercule Poirot created the image of the detective who solves things through mental exercise rather than through the discovering of clues. A good comparison would be to someone like Sherlock Holmes, the first widely popular detective figure in story, drama and then film.”

Woods will serve as the dramaturg, a person who works with the director to guide the staging of the play, for “Black Coffee,” his first production with BCTCo. Woods is responsible for providing literary research and adding context to the storyline for the play’s cast and crew.

With an ensemble of experienced performers and students, the casting, done by director Aynn Titchenal, might surprise audience members who are familiar with the way Christie’s characters are typically portrayed.

“Aynn Titchenal has cast against height so that none of the actors really fulfill the stereotypes of what we expect from them,” Woods said. “There’s always a little bit of a shock, then you pay more attention to the character. She’s cast against stereotype and that’s a very good thing.”

Doug Montanaro, who has been periodically involved with BCTCo. for more than eight years, will play Poirot.

“(Poirot) is such an interesting character,” Montanaro said. “He’s kind of a dandy – always dresses very neatly and he’s very full of himself in some ways. He’s very intelligent and he knows it and lets other people know it.”

While the reasoning behind the absence of “Black Coffee” from Columbus remains uncertain, it is not uncommon for theater companies to shy away from older shows due to a fear that they will be less popular among current theatergoers, Titchenal said.

“Bread & Circus basically makes that part of our mission, to bring back plays that haven’t been seen or are not often performed,” Titchenal said.

Despite the lack of contemporary appeal, Sabina Thalheim, who will play Lucia Amory and is a second-year graduate student in ethnomusicology, said she believes Christie’s status as a standard in British literature will be enough to attract audience members to the play.

“I think a lot of people just really enjoy fun little murder mysteries,” Thalheim said. “It’s a neat thing to get out and do – to go to a different part of Columbus that you don’t normally go to. It’s a very small, kind of intimate setting for the show. It’s just a really neat opportunity to get out and do something different.”

Tickets prices are set at $12. Reservations can be made by calling 614-464-6809 or visiting www.bctco.org.

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