‘And Then There Were None’ at Lakewood Playhouse is a classic whodunit

Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Lakewood Playhouse is a classic whodunit adapted by Christie from her novel of the same name. A mysterious and never seen man, U.N. Owen, invites nine guests to his island home. None of them knows each other, and none knows Mr. Owen. But they each have something in common: Each has killed someone or has been responsible for someone’s death through negligence, and they are told that they have been brought to the island to force atonement for their wrongdoing.

In classic murder-mystery fashion, characters begin to be killed off, and it is evident that one of them is the killer. Suspicions grow and the guests begin to fear and to accuse one another as their back stories are revealed. Their numbers dwindle in ways that are reflected by the framed poem “Ten Little Soldiers,” which hangs on the wall.

Despite all of the murder, it is not a dark or disturbing story. There is ample humor and a fascinating variety of characters, each with personality quirks, nicely portrayed by the large ensemble cast. The fun in the show is getting to know these characters and trying to figure out who is going to be killed next and who the killer is.

But how can there be none left at the end, as the poem says? Wouldn’t the killer have to survive? Christie devised two very different twist endings, one for the novel and a very different one for the stage show. Both are complex and inventive.

The set by scenic designer Art Fick is the simple but elegant front room of a country estate with four doors leading to the outside and to bedrooms and kitchens. (Many of the murders take place off stage.) One drawback to the set is the plain curtain hanging behind the double doors. There should have been rocks or trees or some indication of the outdoor island setting.

The lighting by Kristen Zetterstrom nicely replicates the natural lighting of sun, darkness of night, interior lighting and candle light, and enhances the dramatic impact of the acting.

First-time Lakewood Playhouse director Rick Hornor does a great job of placing and moving about 11 actors in difficult situations.

Best of all, the cast members do a great job of portraying each of these eccentric characters in such a way that they do not appear to be acting, the one exception being Xander Layden as Sir Lawrence Wargrave. In Layden’s defense, Sir Lawrence is, in fact, playing a role.

Among the standout performers is Michael Dresdner as William Blore, a police inspector who at first pretends to be a wealthy South African. Dresdner’s acting is the most natural and unaffected, and more than anyone else on stage, he manages to enunciate clearly in a British accent.

Jane McKittrick, who is Dresdner’s wife, also is outstanding as the alcohol-loving maid, Mrs. Rogers. She is the funniest character in the play, and McKittrick portrays her in a most delightful way. To her great credit, this is only her fourth time on stage.

Another husband-and-wife acting team that stands out is Christian Carvajal and Amanda Stevens as the nervous and guilt-ridden Dr. Armstrong and the uptight and puritanical Emily Brent. Her costume and hair style add immensely to the enjoyment of her character — kudos to costume designer Alex Lewington.

For those who truly appreciate good acting, I suggest paying attention to what these actors do when they are in the background and others are speaking, most notably Carvajal and Ernest Heller as Gen. Mackenzie.

The set-up in act one is necessarily slow to develop, but once they get going, it is a roller-coaster ride of surprises.