By Jeffrey Borak

Berkshire Eagle Staff

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- Agatha Christie wrote "Black Coffee" directly for the stage in 1930. It was her first play and there is no mistaking it -- in terms of style and plot elements -- for anyone else’s.

The play -- which is being given a spotty and, for the most part, unimaginative production at The Theater Barn -- is set in the library of an estate outside London, the home of Sir Claud Amory, a scientist whose formula for a potent explosive capable of wiping out 500,000 persons in one shot is, as the play begins, missing from Sir Claud’s safe.

Sir Claud’s plan to recover the formula -- which involves a darkened room in which all the members of Sir Claud’s family, and guests, are gathered while Belgian detective Hercule Poirot waits patiently in the hallway outside until he is permitted to enter -- backfires when the lights come on and a corpse is discovered.

Poirot decides to stay on and solve both mysteries with the assistance of his friend and aide, Captain Hastings, and the local police inspector.

Red herrings abound in a setting rife with secrets and suspicious behavior.

But it all unfolds with little suspense and even less clarity and distinction among and between the characters. This is a production whose parts don’t add up to a cohesive whole.


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The performances range from the overwrought (Jasmine Rock’s melodramatic Lucia Amory and Donna Eshleman’s irritating, squeaky voiced Barbara Amory, Lucia’s sister-in-law) to the somewhat more colorful (John Cromie’s Poirot and especially Stephen Powell’s delightful Hastings). In between is an expanse of earnest, one-dimensional performances that border on parody.

The English accents range from inauthentic to barely existent. By the time the killer is revealed, Christie’s high-test caffeinated brew has turned to Sanka. Theater Review

BLACK COFFEE by Agatha Christie. Directed by John Trainor; costume design, Logane Robinson; set design, Abe Phelps; lighting design, Nick Robinson. Through July 20. Eve.: 8 Sat. Mats.: 4 Sat.; 2 Sun. The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y. Tickets: $23, $25. (518) 794-8989; theaterbarn.org. 2 hours 20 minutes

Barbara Amory

Dionna Eshleman

Captain Hastings Stephen Powell

Lucia Amory Jamie Rock

Dr. Carelli Aaron Holbritter

Tredwell Toby Wherry

Caroline Amory Meg Dooley

Richard Amory Ben Katagiri

Hercule Poirot John Cromie

Sir Claud John Trainor

Inspector Japp Mike Hayes

Dr. Graham Shaun Rice

Edward Raynor Daniel Dunlow