By Magdalena Dajka, ’20
“[The murderer], imbued with the idea that he knows who ought to be allowed to live and who ought not, is halfway to becoming the most dangerous killer there is—the arrogant criminal who kills not for profit, but for an idea. He has usurped the functions of le bon Dieu” (the good God). With these words from Agatha Christie’s inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, Miss Eva Marie Solak, ’21, opened this year’s Thomas More College theatrical production. Every fall semester, a dedicated group of College students, directed by a junior and a senior, spends countless hours preparing a play; recent productions have included Shakespearean comedies and selections from the medieval York Mystery Plays. This year’s production was a tragedy: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Audience members packed the grand foyer of Mercy Hall, the College’s beaux arts mansion in the heart of Nashua’s Historic District, which had been transformed into a theater, complete with stage lights and sound system. The front of the hall lent itself perfectly to the setting of the play–a room in a 1930’s mansion. The directors, senior Jacinta Yellico and junior Eva Marie Solak, introduced the play, informing the audience that this is not a typical murder mystery, but is fundamentally about justice: “And Then There Were None is a distinct and unique meditation on the great moral virtue. This mystery approaches truth from the opposite, where crime wields ‘justice’ as the murder weapon. This is, at its worst, what happens when a person creates his own morality of justice, and enacts his own punishment,” Miss Solak explained. Then, the lights went black. The captivating, chilling performance commenced.
“[The murderer], imbued with the idea that he knows who ought to be allowed to live and who ought not, is halfway to becoming the most dangerous killer there is—the arrogant criminal who kills not for profit, but for an idea. He has usurped the functions of le bon Dieu” — Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot
The scene unfolded: The mysterious Mr. Owen has summoned ten men and women to a party at his new estate on Indian Island. As it turns out, none of the guests knows each other, and none of them knows his host, either. What at first appears to be a pleasant evening soon takes an unsettling turn, as a commanding voice speaks from the gramophone, accusing each guest of being guilty of murder. From there, the suspense only rises, as person after person is found dead, in a chillingly childish accordance with the verses of the poem “Ten Little Indians,” which hangs above the mantelpiece. The guests, stuck on the island, can do nothing but await further developments and grow increasingly anxious about which among them is the murderer.
And indeed, the actors played their roles so well that the spectators shared their growing horror. The lights and sound effects, controlled by junior Mr. Elijah Moorman, were as good as professional, and the actors equally impressive. The audience laughed at the sardonic humor of Mr. Lombard (freshman Dominic Divozzo), was moved to tears and terror by the screams of Vera Claythorne (sophomore Anna Gawley), and was thoroughly unsettled by Justice Wargrave’s spine-tingling laugh, calm cruelty, and merciless sense of justice. A final gunshot made everyone flinch, and the silent darkness of death descended over the scene. Then the audience burst into powerful applause.
The hard work and sacrifice of the actors and directors truly paid off, as each of the two performances, packed to overflow, was a brilliant success. As College Trustee and alumna Maureen Mooney, who attended the Saturday evening performance, comments, “I was one in a full audience entirely captivated by the phenomenal acting in this suspenseful play. The student performers were superb in their abilities to memorize lines and express their characters so clearly. Even the special effects, scenery and lighting, for a one-scene production, were great. Every seat was taken, with students even aligning the grand staircase to view the play. The entire production was a great example of what Thomas More College has to offer in terms of community spirit and student talent.”
The play was also a rewarding experience for the actors, who saw how the performance did its intended work on the audience. As junior Patrick Kuplack, who played Justice Wargrave, said, playing his role was disturbing, because he had to do things he would never do in real life, and yet those actions reveal something about human nature: “Agatha Christie’s insane, demonic, yet logical presentation of justice provides some all-too-real insights into human nature; she lays bare things to which we may connect but also cringe at. And if one is not cringing at least a little bit by the end … something is wrong.” Truly, the performance left everyone cringing, in the proper sense.