Stray Dog Theatre has just opened its 12th season with an Agatha Christie mystery — and Rob Lippert is the star of the show.
Lippert does play a role in the big “And Then There Were None” ensemble. But more importantly — much more importantly — he designed the chic set, a triumph of modern design.
A deliciously baffling story, “And Then There Were None” finds a disparate group of strangers at a vacation house on a tiny island off England’s coast, sometime between the world wars. It quickly becomes clear that each has a secret and that their unseen host has made murderous weekend plans.
The 10 of them can’t get away, summon help (no telephone!) or trust each other. What to do!
Stray Dog artistic director Gary F. Bell continues his commitment to staging theater for many different tastes. In just the last few seasons, Stray Dog has mounted important dramas (both parts of “Angels in America”), biting satire (“The Little Dog Laughed”), goofy spoofs (“Evil Dead: The Musical”) and musicals with plenty of edge (“Cabaret,” “Spring Awakening,” a steampunk treatment of “Tommy”). Many theaters concentrate on a particular genre or viewpoint, but Bell concentrates on eclecticism.
He evidently doesn’t expect anyone to like all the Stray Dog shows. But with so much variety, most people should like some of them. It’s an uncommonly generous perspective.
Bell directs Christie’s clever mystery to suit broad, traditional tastes. He draws vivid performances (albeit colored with an astonishing variety of accents) from his large cast. Michael Juncal turns in strong work as a beefy former police officer, while Jeff Kargus revives the dashing adventurer (a character who has virtually disappeared from the contemporary stage) in gallantly square-jawed style.
Sarajane Alverson, Stray Dog’s go-to leading lady, gives a nicely nuanced performance as a secretary. She (and she alone) seems overwhelmed by the goings-on; nervously shaking her foot or rubbing her temples, Alverson makes us realize that peril can take its toll right on the spot.
She also gets to wear the best of designer Eileen Engel’s amusing period costumes, making her first entrance in a laugh-out-loud yellow frock with big polka dots. Lighting designer Tyler Duenow creates lots of snappy effects for this weekend of changeable weather.
But Lippert gives the show its defining style. Plays like this, we tend to assume, demand baronial sets (or at least, baronial on a budget). With its vast windows, angular fireplace and low-slung sofa, Lippert’s approach looks less predictable — and more dramatic.
The set suggests the 1920s Paris salon on display among the miniature Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago — except that you actually could relax in the smart white club chair or pour a drink from the sleek bar cart.
As a matter of fact, you could do all that in your own home. The pieces come from T.F.A. (The Future Antiques), a used-furniture store that specializes in modern styles, and most are for sale. (There’s a price list in the lobby.) T.F.A. has decorated the Stray Dog stage for previous productions, too — an offbeat contribution to the arts that pays off here in genuine artistry.