There's no question that Agatha Christie is the mother of murder mysteries. Her name is well-known all over the world, her books are in multiple printing and her plays are the staple of many theaters all over.
But for modern audiences, Dame Agatha is showing her age. And she's old. Very old. So old that in Falls Church Players' production of the popular "Murder on the Nile," running tomorrow, Saturday and Oct. 30 and 31 at George Mason Junior-Senior High School, her words creak like a badly constructed building that has just started to collapse; the pipes are weak, the plaster is falling, the roof looks suspiciously saggy.
We are painfully familiar with the set-up. The play introduces characters in an exotic setting and establishes their relationships and all-important hatreds.
Then someone is taken out with a knife, gun, poison or other nasty method.
After this, the audience tries to figure it out with the help of the ubiquitous, eccentric investigator: Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot or, in this case, Canon Ambrose Pennefather.
To hit the high points: There are accusations, counteraccusations, blind alleys and the inevitable gather-'em-all-together-and-point-the-finger-at-the-guilty-one moment.
This play is no different. The setting is an Egyptian barge, the problem a love triangle and the murder victim a rich British debutante.
So with all the predictability, there has to be the saving grace of good plotting, razor-sharp lines and great acting.
Sorrily, none of these exist in this production. The solution is apparent early in the play. The words that unfold the plot are painfully melodramatic or snooty, as evidenced by such lines as "I'm in hell already" and "Don't let's be political."
And all the characters are bluntly drawn into ridiculous caricatures: the sneaky French maid, the bellicose foreign doctor, the stiff English spinster.
The only thing left, then, is the acting. A passable movie was made of the work some years ago with a wonderful stable of British actors, and their wit and ability shored up many of the weaknesses.
But without naming names, not one person in this troupe delivers a good show. One mistakes loud line readings for passionate acting, one reads so stiffly that I looked for the cue cards, and another moves like a marionette. All try to mimic English accents. All fail.
It gets worse. The set is dull and unrealistic, the lighting too bright. The costumes are passable but unexceptional.
And at the very least in these plays, the audience has to constantly ask the all-important query: Who did it? In this case, it's more like who cares.