Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Black Coffee

Adobe Theater
Review by Dean Yannias

Nick Fleming and Dehron Foster
Photo by Jim Welker
Agatha Christie is one of those writers who has always amazed me. Granted, she lived 85 years, but how can one person think up so many plots and write so many words? Besides countless novels and short stories, she turned out 19 plays. Black Coffee was her first play, and the only one with Hercule Poirot in it. That alone makes it noteworthy, and I'm surprised that it isn't revived more often.

Christie herself described Black Coffee as "a conventional spy thriller ... full of clichés," but "not at all bad." She admitted that she more or less copied the pattern set by Conan Doyle and others, giving Poirot certain eccentricities and a big ego, a "stooge" companion, and a Lestrade-like police inspector. As a mystery, the play leaves a little to be desired. I don't ever expect to guess the murderer before the detective does—that would be too simple. What I enjoy about good mysteries is that "Duh, how could I have missed that clue!" feeling when the case is finally solved. I didn't get that feeling here, because I don't think there was any clue to be missed that would have told me who specifically committed the crime. Unless, of course, I missed it.

It's a pretty standard drawing-room mystery. There's the introduction of the characters and the death of one of them in the first act. Is it murder? But of course. Everyone's a suspect, everyone gets interviewed by Poirot (which causes a bit of a lull in the second act), there are the requisite false leads, and the big reveal at the end of the third act. What saves it from triteness is the always-amusing character of Poirot, especially as embodied here by Dehron Foster. And one other thing: the valuable object that someone is willing to kill for is a piece of paper on which is written the formula for bombarding the atom so as to make weapons of unimaginable destructiveness. This was in 1930! Who would have guessed that the atom bomb, still theoretical of course, would be known by the public as early as 1930?

One thing I will update you on is that the drug hyoscine is now called scopolamine, but don't expect any more of the plot from me. As mentioned above, Dehron Foster makes the show work as Poirot. He looks just as you expect Poirot to look, and his accent and facial expressions are fun without being overdone. (I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but Poirot was almost certainly the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau.)

The rest of the cast generally does well. Fawn Hanson is striking in appearance as Lucia, especially in the costumes that have been fitted on her by Carolyn Hogan, and her acting is good, but since so much is made in the play about her being from Italy, I think a hint of an Italian accent would be indicated. Rick Walter as Dr. Carelli, on the other hand, overdoes the Italian accent, and there is no one from Italy who would let himself be seen wearing such an awful wig and eyebrows. This is especially wrong since he's suspected of being a love interest for the young and lovely Lucia.

Sarah Runyon is also striking in her flaming wig and hip clothing as the young niece Barbara, a woman of the times. Teri Ross is amusing as the trivially loquacious Aunt Caroline, but—and this is Christie's fault, not hers—a little goes a long way. Nick Fleming is appropriately agitated as the suspicious husband of Lucia, and Eric Werner does a fine job as the private secretary. Scott Sharot, as always, makes the most of his time on the stage, and I always enjoy hearing Neil Faulconbridge's accent, since he doesn't have to fake it, being from the UK himself. The other roles are pretty minor—in particular Hastings, the "stooge" sidekick, is practically a non-entity in the script—but are competently performed by Mike Dethlefs, Julie Nelson, and Dan Ware.

Mario Cabrera, the director, has done well in casting and moving the show along and using background music (by Kevin MacLeod) effectively. I have only two complaints. One is the handling of the character of Dr. Carelli, as described above. The other is the two-minute wordless prelude, in which many characters walk on and off stage quickly through various doors like a pointless French farce; if you want to show how many different suspects could have gone into the study where the atomic formula was kept, at least make that obvious to the audience. In other respects, the directing is fine.

The set is very good, and I don't know who gets credit for it, since no set designer is listed in the program. The set painter is Larry Welz, technical director is Shannon Flynn, props are by Nina Dorrance (always superb), and costumes, as noted above, are by Carolyn Hogan (also always excellent).

Black Coffee, as even Dame Agatha acknowledged, is not top-tier Christie, but nevertheless provides an enjoyable time at the theater. If you can figure out who the murderer is before the last scene, I would be happy to take you out for a cup of coffee—black and bitter.

Black Coffee, through May 6, 2018, at the Adobe Theater, 9813 N. 4th Street NW, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. There is a special Pay What You Will performance to benefit the cast on Thursday, April 26, at 7:30. Tickets are $17 to $20. Info at