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MC Communication Department Breathes New Life into Agatha Christie’s Most Enduring Whodunit

The cast of MC's production of Agatha Christie's
The cast of MC's production of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express by Ken Ludwig" takes a welcome break during rehearsals. Mystery lovers shouldn't miss one of the five performances from Thursday-Saturday in the Entergy Theater at the Gore Arts Complex.

A snowdrift stops a long-distance European passenger train in its tracks. An American tycoon is discovered dead in his compartment, stabbed multiple times. A world-famous detective, who happens to be a passenger on the Orient Express, is summoned to solve the murder.

Will Hercule Poirot discover the killer in their midst before an eclectic group of passengers mistakenly rush to judgment?

One of legendary author Agatha Christie’s most beloved whodunits will mystify audiences in the Entergy Theater when the Department of Communication at Mississippi College presents its Fall 2023 play, “Murder on the Orient Express by Ken Ludwig,” Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 26-28, at the Gore Arts Complex in Clinton. Show times are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday.

Phyllis W. Seawright, assistant professor of theater in the Department of Communication at MC, directs the production. She said the play represents a refreshing change of theatrical pace for her department.

“There are some great murder mysteries that are standards of American drama,” said Seawright, who has directed an ensemble cast of MC faculty, staff, students, and guest performers in such productions as “Everyman,” “Our Town,” “A Christmas Memory,” “It’s a Wonderful  Life: A Live Radio Play,” and a large number of Shakespearian plays in recent years. “We haven’t done a good old-fashioned murder mystery in a very long time, and I’ve never directed one.

“Agatha Christie was great at writing not only novels, but plays. This adaptation was commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate for Ken Ludwig to put her most enduring novel onto the stage.”

“Murder on the Orient Express by Ken Ludwig” premiered at the McCarter Theatre Center for the Performing Arts in Princeton, New Jersey, on March 17, 2017. This weekend’s performances mark another premier – they will be the first MC Department of Communication productions to delight audiences in the newly named Entergy Theater on MC’s East campus in Clinton.

Seawright said the production reduces the number of cast members so the audience can track the characters more easily. The fun, she says, is trying to solve the mystery along with Poirot.

“Agatha Christie was famous for planting clues and red herrings,” she said. “Being the master detective that he is, Poirot recognizes immediately that some of these don’t fit. But he still has to follow them and figure out what’s real and what’s fake.”

She said the shows will be packed with comedy – and intrigue.

“The audience can expect humor and thrills. We have one faculty member in a pivotal role, giving it gravitas and a more age-appropriate casting.”

Mississippi College students featured in the production include Matthew Eschete, who will play Poirot; Zavien Wells as the head waiter and Michel, the conductor; Luke Smith as Monsieur Bouc; Marshall Reeves as Col. Arbuthnot; Micah Shepherd as Hector MacQueen; and Jadyn Davis as the mother and the train station announcer. Katie-Ann Foster will play Greta Ohlsson.

Many of the roles are double-cast, with different actors scheduled to appear throughout the weekend slate. These include Larkin Dorris and Shelby Casillas as Daisy Armstrong; Dr. Robert Burgess, assistant library director at MC, and Mikey Brannan as Samuel Ratchett; Emma Ellard and Kathleen Perkins as Mary Debenham; Abby Duggar and Mallory Matte as Helen Hubbard; Rachel Robertson and Amiyah Wells as Princess Dragomiroff; and Jenifer Prewett and Emily Kautz as Countess Andrenyi. Burgess will also play the father.

Burgess and Susan Lassiter, assistant professor of English and philosophy at MC, serve as dramaturgs for the performances, which provide plenty of production experience for MC students. Student crew members include Christen Pittman and Phoebe Breshears, assistant directors; Ellie Acton, dance and movement coach; Judith Pollard, dialect coach; John Mark Pinter, graphic designer; Amelia Hurt, lead makeup designer; Arlie Brown, lead hair designer and violin sound effects; Jadyn Davis and Trinity Eades, props designers; Gracia Oden, Rachel Mayo, Shelby Casillas, and Caroline Becker, running crew; Jacob Watrous, sound designer; Alexis Mucho, Carson Jones, Mars Garcia, and Emily Gambill, box office/programs; Liliana Talazac and Mason Kendall, publicity managers; and Bretton Crosby, Justin May, Lane Castleberry, and Madison Brown Dean, lighting design.

Despite the somewhat morbid nature of the plot, the play is described as a “family-friendly comedy” appropriate for all audiences. While the production may not reflect Christian values per se, Seawright said it does contain a sense of justice that distinguishes it as a morality play.

“Agatha Christie wrote about what’s right and wrong with the world,” she said. “When do people go off the rails and make their own code of justice? That becomes a moral crisis for Poirot in the end. He has knowledge of the truth, but what’s he going to do with it? He has to make a decision fast, and he’s not happy about it.

“As Poirot says in the play, ‘Nothing is what it seems.’”

To reserve tickets for any of the performances, email Seawright at