Agatha Christie's old chestnut of a novel, Ten Little Indians, was a best-seller in 1939 and was adapted for the stage in 1943. It creaks along under its politically correct title, And Then There Were None, on the Walnut Street Theatre's main stage, providing a mildly amusing evening and a mildly puzzling whodunit. As a murder mystery, it has more in common with the board game Clue than with Law and Order.
The premise: 10 people, strangers to one another, have been invited to an isolated manor house in the middle of an island for a weekend. A recorded voice intrudes into their drinks party, reciting a list of the murders each of these strangers has secretly committed. Once people start turning up dead, everyone grows suspicious of everyone else.
The boat that brought them to the island has abandoned them, so they're stuck with one another during a dark and stormy night (it's been quite a week for theatrical weather; this was my third dark and stormy night in a row, what with Macbeth at the Arden and Baskerville at the McCarter). As with the sound (Christopher Colucci) and lighting (Kendall Smith) effects, director Charles Abbott has chosen a caricature style for this arch production as part of the fun, along with melodramatic piano-playing to bridge the scene changes.
It's also been a week of dark and stormy English accents. Half the complicated motivation and backstory explanations of these murderous strangers in And Then There Were None are lost as the actors project too loudly in impossible accents (subtitles, anyone? Dialect coach, anyone?).
This is not true of Greg Wood, who brings some subtlety and genuine acting to this stage. The rest of the cast - Sharon Alexander, Jessica Bedford, Damon Bonetti, Laurent Giroux, John-Charles Kelly, Paul L. Nolan, Wendy Scharfman, Peter Schmitz, Harry Smith - ham it up, clearly having a good time.
What can you say after you say, "They don't write 'em like that anymore"?
One thing: "Thank goodness."
Through April 26 at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-85. Information: 215-574-3550 or WalnutStreetTheatre.org