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Murder on the Nile is a Frightening Delight at the Ritz Theatre Company

by Aimee Ferenz

Murder on the Nile opened at the Ritz Theater on April 5th and proves to be a gleaming success. This murder mystery play is based off of the Agatha Christie 1937 book, Death on the Nile. It follows the story of socialite Kay Mostyn and her new husband, Simon, as they avoid Jacqueline de Severac- ex-friend who has been following them across the continent. When a gun is fired and a key character is found dead, it is left to the remaining characters to sort out who was capable of this heinous crime. I will do my best to avoid spoilers for those reading, but please forgive me if the end feels clear in my writing.

Before I begin, I must commend the work of the production staff. Director/Artistic Director Bruce A. Curless is extremely successful in bringing this group of performers together into a cohesive story. Not only that, but he cultivates an exquisite timing within the actors through natural scene work and poignant moments of silence. Curless’ work, combined with the masterful set design from Bart Healy and costumes by Megan Iafolla, drops the audience onto the Paddle Steamer Lotus. Sound design and stage management by Brian Gensel keeps the audience on edge with additional music throughout the show, timed beautifully with the ebb and flow of conversation. The world is completed by the efforts of dialect coaches Moustafa AlDoori and Mary Martello, and the intimacy coordination of Llana HulYa Lo.

The fine details in this set are a clear sign of a fully recognized vision. The slanted windows, the light weight wooden furniture, and the functional ceiling fan transport the audience onto this ship. A fantastic detail I noted is in Jen Donsky’s light design. She arranged a set of lights so it would shine up through the slanted windows, projecting slow movement that feels like sunlight on the water onto the ceiling. This detail prevails even further as the color of this light changes based on the time of day in the show. The reflection is painted in blue during the night scenes in the second act and in warm morning pink for act three. This incredible attention to detail exhibits that of a professional-level production staff. This, of course, is continued through Gabe Slimm’s endless attention to detail in props and assistant stage management. Murder on the Nile is a show of few props, but the props that are used are monumental in the story. With two different bullet sizes being a necessity in the plot, you need to have the right weapons to help the story make sense. This continues in specific pieces of luggage, the damaged purple scarf, and in the various drinks that each character consumes. Every small success in this design has led to a technical masterpiece. 

The magnificent connection between Canon Ambrose Pennefather (Peter Herrick) and Jacqueline De Severac (Jennie Santiago) keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Herrick shows a masterful range from portraying a doting father figure to a cunning detective determined to close the case. He stays the course of a well tensioned man under impossible circumstances and is always embedded in the story one hundred percent. Meanwhile, Santiago provides a top shelf performance as a woman driven mad by complex motives and steady drinking. Santiago’s performance is a calculated success as she goes through insurmountable loss, not only of her love of Simon but also of her best friend. These two together are a powerful experience that keeps the audience engaged throughout the entire show. The ebb and flow of their relationship bodes with the tides of the plot in a riveting, even tantalizing way. 

Stephen Brandt, who plays Kay’s husband Simon Mostyn, gives an outstanding performance as a deeply troubled man. The audience is particularly enamored by his ability to portray his physical and emotional pain throughout the second and third acts. How Brandt seems to even sweat on command for this role is beyond my understanding. Meanwhile, Kay (Liz Mattera) embodies the radiance of a woman with old money but a mint-conditioned heart. Mattera floats through the scenes with an air of immunity to all around her, which she embodies in perfect posture and a flirtatious gaze. She is able to hypnotize the audience and taunt the characters with the motions of a vixen thus establishing her thread in the plot.

Miss Ffoliot-Ffoukes, an elderly woman on the steamer, serves as a much needed comedic break from the murder and mayhem. Jo Johnson has phenomenal timing in this role with quick wit and excellence in variation. Her relationship with Christina Grant, niece and caretaker played by Samantha Leah Smith, is deeply relatable to anyone who has taken care of an elder. Smith radiates a sunny disposition throughout the show while bringing excellent reactions from the background in big moments. Her budding relationship with William Smith (Robert Repici) acts as a lighter and much appreciated story arc. Repici’s brooding character lurks in door frames and haunts the background of key scenes, establishing a mysterious personality. Repici’s performance further fleshes out his character with concise and clear diction, thus insinuating a more complex background to his character from the beginning.

Dr. Bessner, played by Ken Locicero, acts as the medical professional in the story. Locicero’s performance is genuine and flushed with the tension of a checkered past. He and Louise (Sarah Spivack) both experience extreme moments of stress throughout the play and both actors encapsulate this beautifully. Spivack also shows excellent understanding in the French language not only in their pronunciation but in their consistent accent. Drew Russell DuBoff portrays The Steward, who acts as a doting server to the guests of the steamer. He is accompanied by Evan Haiston (McNaught/1st Beadseller) and Zachary Palais (Police Official/2nd Bead Seller). All three of them assist in bringing the world to life and heightening the tension of the story. 

This was my first live experience with Agatha Christie and I am enamored. The attention to detail, the contrast between such fully formed characters, the constant debate between who was in danger and who was at fault; it all led me to be absolutely enthralled in this play. I hope that you will find time to support local theater in the area, especially at a theater where you are always welcomed by the friendly faces of their associate artistic director, Matthew Weil. The Ritz Theater has done it again with another incredible success. Murder on the Nile runs until April 21st and tickets can be found on their website at 


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