ACTORS brings classic mystery 'Murder on the Orient Express' to its stage

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
ACTORS is staging Agatha Christie’s "Murder on the Orient Express" beginning Jan. 27, with Thom Sinn as Hercule Poirot and Alex Kirstukas as Monsieur Bouc.

ACTORS is gearing up for its next production, “Murder on the Orient Express,” and the scope of the play is causing director Patrick Determan to use a collaborative approach.

“Staging an Agatha Christie murder mystery is always a bigger than life production and doing it on ACTORS’ small stage is even more challenging,” Stan Rabe from ACTORS said of the play that opens Jan. 27.

Determan cast an experienced group of actors who have worked with him to build the mystique of the show, Rabe said.

“This is an incredible script and we have an incredible cast. ‘It takes a village to raise a play,’ and this show is a prime example,” Determan said in a news release. “I had a vision, but with the intensity of these characters, I knew I had to rely on the cast to bring the drama to life. To do that, they needed to be invested, and I have made sure their energy and ideas are reflected in the final product.”

Determan used rehearsals to be “an exchange of discussions about motivation and staging so that everything is correct down to the minor detail,” he said.

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Natalie Morrill plays the role of Greta Ohlsson and Phyllis Schrag plays Princell Dragomiroff in ACTORS' production of "Murder on the Orient Express."

Some of the actors have wanted to be a part of this Agatha Christie show for a long time, so the collaborative spirit was especially effective.

For example, Thom Sinn is playing the role of Hercule Poirot. Several years ago while he was living in Baltimore, Maryland, Sinn saw “Murder on the Orient Express,” and the role of detective has been on his wish list ever since.

When Sinn and his wife moved to Ames in the fall, he was excited to learn that the Agatha Christie classic was part of this season at ACTORS.

During the last couple of years, Sinn has thought a lot about what makes Poirot the character that he is, and he is working with Determan to bring a believable and engaging Poirot to life, Rabe said.

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The ACTORS production of "Murder on the Orient Express" opens Jan. 27 with Calvin Clark as Colonel Arbuthnot, Jensen Wilke as Mary Debenham, Jason Varjgrt as Hector MacQueen and Jobe Fee as Samuel Rachett.

After moving to Ames, Jean Eichmeier attended ACTORS’ annual meeting. When she met Determan, she immediately told him that she was going to be in his cast. During auditions, she earned the role of the wealthy American widow Helen Hubbard.

After years of experience with the Emmetsburg Community Theater, Eichmeier is bringing her talents to ACTORS. Working with the costumer, she has been helping ensure the clothing reflects the characters and the period.

“Jason Varjgt has been doing theater in Marshalltown for years, but the opportunity to be in an Agatha Christie mystery brought him to ACTORS,” Rabe said.

Varjgt remembers Determan from his days at the Marshalltown Community Theater many years ago and decided to audition. He is playing Hector MacQueen, the personal secretary of the victim, Samuel Ratchett.

A six-show run of "Murder on the Orient Express" opens Jan. 27 at ACTORS' theater, with Doug Arterburn as the Conductor, Thom Sinn as Hercule Poirot and Alex Kirstukas at Monsieur Bouc.

Other cast members include ACTORS veterans, Sophie Bass, Jobe Fee, Alex Kirstukas and Phyllis Schrag, and new members, Jensen Wilke, Natalie Morrill, Calvin Clark and Doug Arterburn.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of the Christie classic murder mystery. The script also has a “healthy dose of humor,” Rabe said.

The plot kicks off just after midnight on the passenger train, the Orient Express, where the murder of an American tycoon has been discovered. He has been stabbed repeatedly and his door is locked from the inside.

One of the passengers, detective Poirot is challenged with identifying the murderer before he or she can strike again, Rabe said.

Sophie Bass plays Countess Andrenyl and Jean Eichmeier plays Helen Hubbard in the upcoming ACTORS production of "Murder on the Orient Express."

“We are excited to share this classic mystery with the community and know you will be practicing your own detective skills through the final page,” Determan said.

Holly Olson and Marla Miller produce the show.

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, 28 and 29, and Feb. 4 and 5; and 2 p.m. Feb. 6. Tickets are $20 and are available online at or in person at Alpha Copies, 3516 Lincoln Way.

Masks are required for all audience members. Hors d’oeuvres will not be served on opening night, and beverages will not be available during this production.

Opening Jan. 27, ACTORS presents Agatha Christie’s "Murder on the Orient Express," with Doug Arterburn as the Conductor and Jason Varjgrt as Hector MacQueen.