Saturday, November 9, 2013

REVIEW: Magenta's "Black Coffee" Truly Tasty

Agatha Christie's "Black Coffee" is now showing at the Magenta Theater, 606 Main Street, Vancouver, Wash. The show will run November 9, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m. and November 16, 23 at 2 p.m.

Poirot Please:

In this story the famous Hercule Poirot (played ably by Tony Provenzola)  is summoned by England's most prominent physicist, Sir Claud Amory. Amory fears that someone in his household is attempting to steal his latest discovery, a secret formula critical to England's defense. But there are other secrets, too.

Poirot, with Captain Hastings at his side, rushes to get there, but arrives too late: Amory has died, his formula is missing and anyone in his country house, full of relatives and guests, could have been responsible.

This is a delightful and perfect community theater piece.

The cast of "Black Coffee." Tony Pronvenzola as Hercule
Poirot seated in the lower right. Photo provided.

Pleasant Performances:

In this production Lucia Amory is played by Tanya Gray, Miss Caroline Amory by Michele Glover, Barbara Amory by Shaye Eller, Tredwell by Glenn Russell, Richard Amory by Glenn Chipman, E. Raynor by Hillary Marshall, Dr. Carelli by Gary Corbin, Sir Claud Amory and Johnson by Rob Goff, Captain Arthur Hastings by Curtis Hope, Dr. Graham by Reba Hoffman, Inspector Japp by Tim Klein, and Hercule Poirot by Tony Provenzola.

Standout performances were given by Chipman, Eller, Corbin and, of course, Provenzola. Chipman was strong in his role and ruled the stage; Eller, sassy and commanding. Both are talented and accomplished actors.

Compare this TV character
portrait to Provenzola above.
I've seen Provenzola play many roles--sometimes several in the same play. He is a particularly good comic actor, so casting him in the role of a serious, though slightly eccentric, detective could been a mistake. The performance might have been more Clouseau than Poirot, even if Provenzola has an uncanny resemblance to the classic Christie character. Well, it wasn't a mistake and he played the role with quintessential imitation and great charm.

However, I think it was Corbin, as the Italian Dr. Carelli, I most enjoyed. The flamboyant and oily character was perfectly played with just the right touch of comedy and shiftiness. I was mesmerized every moment he was on stage. His accent (which he kept throughout) was wonderful to listen to. [Note: Overall the cast, with the exception of Corbin and Provenzola, were lax in their accents. Good British diction is something one expects from Magenta players.]

All other performances were genuinely good, with one exception. Tim Klein was abysmal. I am sorry to say that, because I like him. He was fantastic in Slocum's "Greater Tuna" and wonderful playing multiple roles in a couple of Magenta shows. Actually, it's not so much his acting in that he seemed so out of place. Broad comedy seems to be his forte and Christie, while having a wry sense of humor, is not comedy. Either he was grossly miscast or the director couldn't reign him in--or both. I was truly jarred when he took to the stage with his bombastic mix of U.S. southern and cockney buffoonery. The performance did not fit at all and was way too over the top.

[The above was my initial reaction to the portrayal of Inspector Japp and it has been pointed out, by Tim Klein, that the role was portrayed exactly as he and the director intended and as was written by Christie. I have not read the work (so I cannot confirm that), but have seen the character (I believe wisely played down) in the BBC production. "Black Coffee" was Christie's first stage play and while she kept Poirot in subsequent plays, she dropped the Japp character (possibly because she realized he was too broadly written--writers DO learn and improve). 

Regardless, had I directed the play, I would have done differently. Not because I am right, but because I am merely different. We all have the right to our opinion and interpretation. My apologies for the insinuations I made or seemed to have made that Klein was "miscast" or out of control. I don't believe, as I tried to say, that Tim Klein is a bad actor or that Amanda Goff is a bad director. I retract that insinuation and mean only to state that I didn't like their "take" on the character within the context of the other players.]

Still, the other performances and the overall production made the show delightful and well worth seeing.

Pleasing Production:

I found the production values to be quite pleasing. The show was well lit (lighting design by Elizabeth Tindall). The blocking and stage direction (by Amanda Goff) was good, and her set design was the best I have ever seen at Magenta--quite delightful and realistic. It was also dressed very nicely (by Michele Glover). It was impressive and detailed from stage right to stage left. Costumes (by Sheila McCormack), though good, were not necessarily kept period.  Properties (by Magenta's Artistic Director, Jaynie Roberts) were also detailed.

Potential Patrons:

All shows are at the Magenta Theater (address and dates above). Advance Tickets are $12.00 - $15.00. For ticket reservations and/or information:

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler.


  1. Agatha Christie is not a genre, but a playwright (among other things). And in this particular play, she did indeed write my character as a back-slapping, lewd boor of a police inspector, obliviously and comically out of place in posh surroundings. Whether or not it fits with your view of her work, that jarring contrast is an example of broad comedy written by Agatha Christie. I assure you it's quite deliberate, and not the result of my inability to play any other type of role, or of a weak-willed director unable to rein in an overly exuberant actor.

    -- Tim Klein

  2. Tim, thank you for your comments. It was not intention to be mean to you or Amanda or Magenta, but I truly was jarred. I am, BTW, familiar with the mystery writer Agatha Christie, and I suppose you are right that I shouldn't put her in a box, so to speak. I have not read the script for "Black Coffee" but I am familiar with Japp from BBC. I have not seen him played as you played him and I am not opposed to that interpretation, but I would have made the other characters more caricature as well. It was too much of a change, but that's simply MY artistic interpretation.

  3. Ah, I see why you were so jarred. When the butler announced the arrival of Inspector Japp, you were expecting the BBC's version of Japp. But the BBC's well-rounded Japp from 1989 is quite different from Agatha Christie's broadly comedic Japp from 1929. The TV screenwriters basically fabricated their version of him out of thin air, based only loosely on the "real" Japp's appearances in a few of Christie's early works. (See the first paragraph of the "Inspector Japp" article on Wikipedia.) We couldn't have made our Japp similar to the BBC's version even if we'd wanted to deviate from Christie's vision of him, since his crass lines and back-slapping stage directions in "Black Coffee" simply wouldn't have supported the BBC's characterization.

    In your response to my comment, you try to soft-pedal your review's heavyhanded treatment of me by saying that it's simply a matter of differences of interpretation. But your published review actually says something quite a bit more harsh than that. In your review, you don't even allow for the possibility that my portrayal is the result of any thoughtful interpretation on our part at all (the director's and mine). Rather, the only explanation you can offer (and, incredibly, you DO decide to offer it rather than to wisely avoid speculating) is that the director must have started with an interpretation similar to your own, but then I as a one-trick-pony actor subverted her wishes, and she was too weak-willed of a director to stop me. You imply, in other words, that our portrayal of Japp could only have been arrived at through a combination of gross incompetence on the part of actor and director, rather than by a collaborative artistic choice by actor and director.

    That's more than a little insulting. If your interpretation is different from ours, that's one thing. But it's nothing short of arrogant of you to assume that only gross incompetence can explain how someone might end up with a different opinion from your own.

    I assure you that we did arrive at our interpretation through thoughtful reading and discussion of the script (which you have not read, despite your claim to be a theater critic familiar with Agatha Christie). And I stand behind our result. Do you still stand behind your description of my portrayal as "abysmal" and "grossly miscast"?

  4. I believe that Agatha Christie (wisely, writers DO improve) continued to refine the character of Insp. Japp in several novels (though he disappeared from her plays). Perhaps the BCC )also wisely) took these into account as well as the earlier work.

    And aren't all critics arrogant? ;) Okay, so I take responsibility for my actions/words AND I take issue with Christie rather than with the director and actor. My apologies.

  5. Tim:

    I don't usually make retractions, but I feel your concern is just. I have done so only because you have been so kind with me and have made some good points. I try not to be arrogant, by the way, but I do tend to be rather opinionated. Thank you for your willingness to dialogue. Sorry that I assume wrongly. ~Greg