Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Agatha Christie's "Five Little Pigs":
Worst Title for Best Novel

[Photo collage of images from the BBC series Poirot, Y2K, Five Little Pigs. Screenplay Kevin Elyot; Director, Paul Unwin.]
"Texture" is the quality that I missed when I picked up some Agatha Christie after a couple years' work with Henry James.  It was like drinking Kool-Aid after Cognac.

But in Five Little Pigs, Christie layers her crime story.  The story concerns a grown daughter hiring Poirot to clear the reputation of her mother Caroline, executed seventeen years earlier for the murder of her artist husband Amyas.  Caroline supposedly poisoned Amyas in the act of painting a portrait of his young mistress, and offered little defense of herself at the trial.  Time itself adds layers to the story. Then the five suspects'  "written" accounts expand and color our view of the fatal event; observations on art and class clash; and we see the dynamics of family and old friends.

I've read recently that Christie was a faithful Anglican, something I never would have suspected; but I do see in her novel that sin is its own punishment, where Poirot observes that the guilty party died with the victim. (Cf. my article What Mr. Suchet Saw: Christ in Agatha Christie. )

The title has nothing to do with the story beyond the number of suspects.  Yes, Poirot thinks, "This one had roast beef," but damned if I can figure out what that and other references to the nursery rhyme have to do with any character.

The memoir Poirot and Me by actor David Suchet put me onto this novel. He calls it one of Christie's best, and tells how the intensity of the actors in supporting parts "upped" his "game" in the role he had played several seasons by then.

The video production misses the themes of art, obsession, and modernist morality so prevalent in the novel, but it uses montages to make more clear than the novel does how tight-knit are the friendships and family ties.

Having read the novel and now seen the dramatization, I'm a fan.  But any title -- even the abstraction "Murder in Retrospect" used for the first American printing -- would be preferable.

Considering the art theme and the solution, it might be called, "Framed."

[Photo:  A moment of truth for the characters, and also for actors Rachael Stirling ("Caroline Crale") and Aidan Gillen ("Amyas Crale"):  Knowing the end of the story, we can read back into their faces exactly what was happening at the site of the murder.]

Short Comedies for Middle School

With just eight one-hour rehearsals and some scrambling to polish lines backstage, a cast of self-directed middle schoolers just pulled off fine performances of short plays that kept us laughing, adults even more than the kids.

Eighth graders chose, cast, and directed the plays. They earned the privilege by accumulating over 100 hours of quality involvement in my after-school "W.arts (Walker Arts)" Drama Team.  I paid at most $80 for scripts and royalties to any of these plays.

First up tonight was John Wooten's "The Role of Della" available from Playscripts.com. The woman sitting at the desk in the audition room puts a hopeful young actress through an ordeal involving insults, Spanish accent, Spanish accent mixed with Southern. and mime.  We have a happy resolution, and then a surprise ending.  The biggest laugh came when the audience "got it."  Eighth grader Sarah Culling chose the play and directed 8th Grader Evie Blauvelt as the actress and 6th grader Sabine Surkan in the other role.  Sarah played the role of the woman who enters near the end.

Katrin Surkan directed "Inside the Department of the Exterior" by Philip Hall, also from Playscripts.com.  A guy (played by director Katrin Surkan) needs a new mailbox; the woman at the government office (Gillian Stoltz) requires official forms to be letter-perfect.  As botched form after botched form gets ripped in pieces and thrown in the garbage, each grows frustrated with the other.  It was a tour de force for the bureaucrat, who spoke absurd bureaucratese with unrelenting clarity and earnestness.

"Family Meeting" by Dan Zolidis was directed by Brooke Baughan.  Her younger actors (6th graders all:  Isabela White as the daughter, Sophie Dietz the mom, Ronan Ezell the father) turned in wonderful performances in a play set in some absurd universe where parents can trade their daughter in for Sven the Foreign Exchange Student.  "We love you, dear," Mom says, "but, after a certain amount of time, we expect results."  Brooke got her cast to exaggerate their movements to great comic effect; it didn't seem too much. The play, from YouthPlays.com, was least expensive, most convenient.

Tanya Dadlani directed a play of her own, a play within a play within a  play:  She portrayed the student director of a script about a Mom who sets straight her daughter who wants to marry rich like Cinderella:  All wasn't happily ever after, after all.  Then, the cast rebelled, "because no punishment can be worse than being in this play."  Tanya called it "Breaking the Glass Slipper," and it got laughs in all the places she expected.