Tag: Agatha

Blog: The World’s Greatest Detective

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Blog by Brock D. Vickers

Riddle me this, “Who is the world’s greatest detective?” Born out of the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, the detective story has captured audiences’ minds since its inception. Putting the pieces together and solving a puzzle is what draws us in. Are we smart enough to solve the riddle? Can we figure out the mystery before “The World’s Greatest Detective?”

The title, shared by the likes of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or the enigmatic “L,” is like a challenge issued to the audience. Each of these characters has captured the limelight at some point, whether it is with BBC’s fantastic productions of Poirot or Sherlock, or even animé’s binge-watched Death Note.

Yet, since Auguste Dupin there has been one detective that has attracted more attention than any other. His resources are limitless, his story tragic, and his rogues’ gallery is unrivaled.

He was born for “Detective Comics,” and has been referred to as “The Dark Knight,” “The Caped Crusader,” and of course “The World’s Greatest Detective,” but is most commonly referred to as Batman. Whatever you know him as, or wherever you know him from, Batman is proof you don’t need superpowers to be a hero.

The Dark Knight is an American icon. He’s the only human among the gods of the Justice League (and also the man who destroys it). He’s taken down monstrous deities, tyrannical conquerors, terrorists, and every form of supervillain from those with one bad day to those with a lifetime of bad days. He’s the man who defeated Superman: “I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.”

In 1939, after the success of Superman, Action Comics prompted editors of National Publications (the future DC Comics) to request more superheroes. In response, Bob Kane created “the Bat-Man” with collaborator Bill Finger to contrast the original golden boy. Created as a combination of Zorro, Dracula, and the Shadow, Kane and Finger’s creation has become one of the greatest comic-book characters to ever don a cape and cowl.

After witnessing the death of his parents, American billionaire playboy and philanthropist Bruce Wayne, swears vengeance against injustice and trains himself physically and mentally, crafting a bat-inspired persona to instill fear in criminals.

Unlike most superheroes, Batman possesses no superpowers; rather, he relies on his WideEyedStudiosHedgerowChristieFinalHigh-129 (1)intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, detective skills, and indomitable will to defeat his foes. Like Sherlock before him, Bruce sharpens his senses to the point of medical precision and makes himself more than man. He creates a symbol people can believe in.

Batman gained his own comic-book title in 1940. Though more of a superhero now, Batman started out as a true detective.  As the decades rolled on, new interpretations of the character evolved into the idea he is today.

The late 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West used a camp aesthetic. The dark soul of the character returned in 1986 with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Warner Bros.‘ live-action Batman feature films. From Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s rubber-suited Knight to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s realistic anti-hero, the Caped Crusader has become the most profitable hero of all time.

The character has set the standard for video games with Rocksteady’s Arkham series, as well as provided the model for how to make an action cartoon with the Emmy Award-winning television show Batman: The Animated Series.

He ranks second on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes (behind the honorary position held by the original superhero, Superman), and yet holds no powers. The secret to Batman’s draw is simple: he’s human. He has been broken by Bane and tempted by Poison Ivy, but ultimately if the Dark Knight were to miss his grapple, or be clipped by an Omega-Beam, he would go down for the count. He is fallible and mortal, just like us. There is no token weakness like wood or kryptonite, because every time the Dark Knight rises he is vulnerable.  

After the Green Lantern flies away to save the galaxy or Flash reverses time, what are we left with? It is Bruce’s humanity, his weakness, that draws us in. He is a flawed orphan, who has dedicated his life to an insurmountable task. The very idea of Batman is the essence of character.

In the theatre, we love flawed people. We do not go to the theatre to see people live through a good day, or watch them as things go right. We go to the theatre to see what people do while under duress. What fun is there is watching someone cope? We want to see the struggle. Bruce gives us the struggle. We know that every time he goes out on patrol, he is risking it all.

Batman is the most feared superhero of all, because he represents the absolute pinnacle of human achievement: the complete package and the ideal of what we all could be.

Always five steps ahead of his foes, he’s a brilliant detective, a world class athlete, and a master strategist, but in his crusade against injustice, there are two questions that drive this character: how far will he go and can he maintain his humanity?
Something is always at stake for the Dark Knight, and the beauty of the canon of stories from the earliest iterations by Kane and Finger to the most recent rendition by Zack Snyder, our hero is always in conflict. He has lost his parents, his lovers, his allies, his friends, and in some cases he’s even lost his own mind, but each and every time we see Batman pull through, we feel the catharsis of our own humanity. We believe in ourselves, because if Batman can do it, then why can’t we?

Blog: The First Detective

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowChristieFinalHigh-181Edgar Allan Poe is generally accepted to be the author of the first fictional detective, for his trilogy of short stories featuring Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin.  Written before the word detective entered into the dictionary, Poe’s Dupin and the stories he was involved in set the framework for the entire genre of detective literature that would follow, inspiring characters and plots in both Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels as well as Agatha Christie’s writings on Hercule Poirot.  

Dupin was featured in three different short stories, each involving a serious crime to be solved.  The first, The Murders in the Rue Morgue involved the double murder of a mother and daughter.  The second, The Mystery of Marie Roget, a fictionalized investigation based off the very real murder of Mary Rogers, whose corpse was found floating in the Hudson River in 1841, as well as the final installation, The Purloined Letter, a blackmailing case where the compromising contents of a stolen letter are used against the queen of France.

The inspiration for Dupin is said to have come from the French criminal-turned-detective François Vidocq, who helped to establish the Sûreté nationale, the national police force of France.  In turn, Dupin went on to inspire the trope of the gentleman detective, the upper-class, well-educated eccentric who favors the quiet solitude of the English country.  The stories followed the format that would later be used throughout the Golden Age of Detective Fiction – a story told about the detective by a close friend/narrator, about the eccentric detective overcoming the bumbling constabulary to solve a crime that has stumped the police, analyzing facts throughout the story only to have a big reveal scene at the narrative’s conclusion.  Dupin’s narratives also included the first locked-room mystery in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, where the culprit has left behind what appears to be a perfectly locked and sealed crime scene, making it difficult to ascertain how the culprit entered and left, as well as the first known account of a murder mystery detective story based on an actual crime in  The Mystery of Marie Roget.

The character of Dupin hails from a wealthy, gentlemanly background, but has been reduced to more modest means, forgoing anything he considers non-essentials apart from an extensive collection of books.  He became acquainted with the narrator when the two were both independently searching for a “rare and very remarkable volume” in an obscure library, moving into a shared apartment shortly after.

Poe described Dupin’s methods as “ratiocination”, a form of reasoning where the detective solves a crime by putting himself into the mind of the culprit in order to figure out the exact thought process of the criminal and thereby figure out each step of the crime.  He combines his superior logic with his creative mind in order to pinpoint the “unintended”, paying specific attention to hesitation, eagerness, and word choice when investigating suspects and witnesses.  Dupin’s methods also emphasizes the importance of reading and writing, with many of his clues coming from newspaper reports or reports written by the Prefect.

Without Dupin, detective literature as we know it today would not exist.  On top of inspiring Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, their respective authors wrote references into their works, giving a polite tip of the hat to the character that started it all.  Sherlock at one point mentions Dupin as an inferior intellect to his own, and criticizes Dupin’s method of “breaking in on his friend’s thoughts with an apropos remark” despite the fact that Holmes himself later uses the very same technique.  In addition to that, in Christie’s Poirot novels, the detective at one point pens a book about Edgar Allan Poe.  Dupin also received two film adaptations in the 1940s, though his name was changed from Auguste to Pierre, in Universal Pictures’ Mystery in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget.  He appears as a character or reference in comics, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Batman, as well as several novels about mysteries or Edgar Allan Poe, often ending up to be the author in disguise.  

Podcast: Are Cynthia and Mary Scheming?

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While this is not Emily or Bonnie, this is Zoran Kvocic solving the case of Yorick, in fact, being dead.

Emily Parker and Bonnie Baldini are new to Hedgerow Theatre. Both recent graduates, from Muhlenburg College and Temple University respectively, the two young actors join the cast of Stylesas tragic heroines, each with a secret to hide. In this podcast, they let us in on secret or two of their own.

Podcast: From Hercule and Hastings with Love

flea in her ear spring 2013 (23)Zoran Kovcic (Hercule Poirot) and Shaun Yates (Hastings) are no strangers. Since Shaun’s arrival at Hedgerow over five years ago, he and Zoran have been a team. Most recently, Shaun and Zoran have been the masterminds behind many of Hedgerow’s sets; however, with Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Stylesthe two rekindle their acting relationship to make up Christie’s dynamic duo.

Blog: A Stylish Murder

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Zoran Kovcic will play Poirot

Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, comes to the stage for the first time at Hedgerow Theatre from March 17 to May 8in a world-premiere adaptation by Artistic Director Jared Reed. The work, written in 1916 and published in 1920, introduced the world to Hercule Poirot, who’s been called “one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.”

    The story takes place at an estate outside London, Styles Court, owned by Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy heiress recently remarried to her much younger husband, Alfred, believed by some to be a fortune hunter. Also in residence are her two stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife, Mary; Cynthia Murdoch, the orphaned daughter of a family friend; Evelyn Howard, Emily’s assistant; Dorcas, the maid; and Capt. Arthur Hastings, recuperating from injuries received in World War I, who’s just arrived to visit his friend John. On the morning after Emily has been overheard arguing with an unidentified person, she is found dying from strychnine poisoning. Because there are so many possible suspects, Hastings enlists the help of his friend Poirot, the ace Belgian detective recently relocated to England because of the war, to help solve the case.
    Agatha Christie plays have long been a mainstay and quite popular at Hedgerow, but this one is unique for several reasons.“It’s the very first Hercule Poirot mystery, and it has never been performed onstage,” said Reed, a Juilliard graduate who is also directing the production. “He [Poirot] is insufferable! He’s cute and brilliant and pompous. We’ve been waiting to adapt this story for years.” Reed has adapted several plays over the years such as The Odyssey, The Iliad, and most recently Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Christie has presented somewhat of a challenge for him, as her attention to detail makes it difficult to modify.“You approach the work carefully,” he explained. “The hard part was in trying to get the length down without cutting plot points. It’s really amazing with Christie: everything is needed, whether it’s a clue or a red herring.”
    Zoran Kovcic is Poirot, a role he first played in 1993. The Rose Valley resident has acted and designed and built sets at WideEyedStudiosHedgerowMurderRunFinalHigh-36Hedgerow for more than 20 years. Stacy Skinner of Media, whose previous roles include Gertrude in Hamlet, portrays Emily. Ned Pryce, a University of the Arts graduate who played Jonathan Harker in Dracula, makes his second Hedgerow appearance as John Cavendish.  Company member Shaun Yates, a Texas native who now lives in Bryn Mawr, is Hastings. Hedgerow Fellow Allison Bloechl and company member Brock D. Vickers, currently earning rave reviews for their multiple roles in Or, are Evelyn and Lawrence. Fellow Mark Swift, who was Renfield in Dracula, plays Alfred, and Fellow Josh Portera (Otto inBullshot Crummond) portrays several characters, including toxicologist Dr. Bauerstein. Longtime company member Susan Wefel is Dorcas.
    There are also two local actors making their Hedgerow debuts. Emily Parker, originally from Somerville, N.J., was invited to audition by fellow Muhlenberg College alums Bloechl and and Portera, and was cast as Cynthia. Bonnie Baldini, a graduate of Upper Darby High School and Temple University, is Mary. They both currently reside in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia.
. Hedgerow Theatre is America’s first repertory theatre, founded in 1923. It is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).

Top Seven: Books on Storytelling

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowOrFarceFirstHigh-31Crafting a story is a beautiful thing. It takes hours, if not years, of unseen sweat and ink. When it comes to theatre, those stories get seen as many angles as possible before they every reach the stage. Artistic Director Jared Reed sees a lot of angles at Hedgerow. He functions as an actor, director, lighting designer, playwright, father, son, leader, and as many job titles as the theatre can throw at him. At his core, Reed is a storyteller, and one working doubly on his craft at the moment as he spearheads the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Therefore, we wanted to know what are Reed’s cornerstones of creation.

1.) Constantin Stanislavsky, “An Actor Prepares”

2.) Edward Gordon Craig, “The Art of the Theatre”
3.) Peter Brook, “The Empty Space”
4.) Aristotle, “Poetics”
5.) John Gardner, “The Art of Fiction” 

Clues: Facts of the Case

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Ned Pryce from Dracula

Allow us to shed some light on the upcoming mystery: strychnine. If you are an avid mystery lover, and if you are reading this you are, then you will love a clue or two to get a leg up on the competition. Well, enjoy these facts on an essential point in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. 

 

The 19th century witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution which is responsible for scientific advances, as well as technological. This progress  caused a boom in medical science which led to numerous remedies for ailments. Some of these were quite dangerous including morphine, cocaine, and opium.  The Victorians’ reliance on medicines and tonics carried over into the 20th century.

Emily Ingelthorp’s tonic contains the alkaloid, strychnine. By the first half of the 20th century, people were ingesting strychnine as a tonic or in pill form for gastric health. The plant source of alkaloid strychnine was discovered in 1818. This discovery was made by French chemists Joseph-Bienaime Caventou (1795-1877) and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier. Strychnine comes from the seeds of the nux vomica tree that grows in India. Although strychnine is a poison, it has been used in the past as a medicine. Strychnine was once prescribed as a remedy for heart and respiratory complaints and as a stimulant (or body “upper”). It is no longer used today because the size of an effective dose would be toxic. (Encyclopedia)

Podcast: Making a Murder at Hedgerow

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowDraculaFinalHigh-57It takes a lot to make a murderer, especially one that is supposed to entertain, delight, and mystify. Yet, Dame Agatha Christie always seemed to be up to the task.  In 1920 with the release of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie has been tantalizing us with mysteries ever since and allowing the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot to solve them.

In this week’s podcast, Ned Pryce, Mark Swift, and Josh Portera circle up to talk about the creative process of creating a mystery and the work going in to this world premiere adaptation of Christie’s first murder mystery.

Blog: Give Yourself In To Pleasure and See Or,

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Kittson O’Neill as Ahpra

“Pleasure,” is the one word actor Kittson O’Neill uses to describe the “heart” of Liz Duffy Adams’ Barrymore Recommended production of Or, in which O’Neill plays the pioneering female playwright Aphra Behn (1640-89) a wise-cracking poet with men and women under her thumb.

Or, is the second Hedgerow winter show in a row to be Barrymore Recommended. Last year’s On the Verge received the same accolade, which also featured O’Neill as the director, Aaron Cromie, director of Or, as scenic designer for Verge, and Brock D. Vickers, who played multiple parts as The Man.

“We are very pleased to receive this recognition,” Artistic Director Jared Reed said. “It’s a testament to the hard work, art and skill of this team, the second year they’ve been so honored, and to Theatre Philadelphia’s acknowledgement of Hedgerow as a professional theatre.”

Adams’ witty farce is set in the late 1600s, after King Charles II (Vickers) had been restored to the throne following the Cromwell era. It follows a day in the life of Behn, a poet who served as a spy for the king, whose failure to pay her lands her in debtors’ prison. Following her release, she has a chance to launch a career as a playwright, but only if she can finish her first play by the next morning. That job is made difficult by a nonstop string of visitors: her royal lover, the king; cross-dressing actress Nell Gwynne (Bloechl); and former lover, double-agent William Scot (Vickers), who may be involved in a plot to kill Charles. She’s faced with the challenge of trying to save the king, resisting Nell’s charms, winning William a pardon, and meeting her deadline.

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Vickers as William Scott

It’s very rare as an actress to play a character who is driven by her sexual desires and ultimately triumphs because of them,” O’Neill mused. “She’s basically the anti-Blanche [from A Streetcar Named Desire]. Liz’s take on Aphra dives deeply into the dilemma of being a woman who loves her life, her lovers, and her freedom, but lives in a world that is constantly boxing her into a role she just doesn’t fit. That’s a recipe for tragedy, but in this play it’s a farce.”

Behn (b. c.1640, d. April 1689) is a figure shrouded in mystery.  Next to nothing is known about her early life, which is possibly a direct result of Behn intentionally obscuring her own past from the public and from history.  Biographer Janet Todd said of Behn that she “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks”.  Born to a baron or a barber, a colonel or a cooper, what we do know about Behn is that she worked as a spy for King Charles II, and shortly after became the first English female playwright of renown.  

Asked to describe the play, O’Neill said, “‘Or,’ is smart and entertaining. It gives you a belly laugh and turns on a light bulb. If you bring a sense of fun and curiosity to the show, which is exactly what Hedgerow’s audiences bring, you will love it. It reminds us that new plays are fun, history is fun, ladies are fun. Comedy is the secret weapon of big ideas. If I told you you were going to see a feminist play about a 17th-century woman playwright you would probably fake a stomach ache. If I told you you were going to watch a sex-farce crossed with a political spy thriller you would hop right in the car.”

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Allison Bloechl as Nell Gwynne and O’Neill as Ahpra

The year 1666 came during a time of turmoil for Behn and for England itself.  In September of that year, the Great Fire of London burned for four days, resulting in the destruction of over 13,000 homes and nearly 100 churches and cathedrals.  Two years earlier, Aphra lost her husband during the final outbreak of the Great Plague in London, though there is reason to suspect that she separated from him and took advantage of the high death toll to recreate herself as a widow instead of a divorcee.  In 1665, the Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out – one of four wars fought between England and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries – and Behn found herself hired by King Charles II to work as a spy in Antwerp under the pseudonym “Astrea”, with the intention of turning the British expatriate and son of a regicide William Scot into a double agent for the crown.  Though exact details of the events that surrounded “Astrea” and “Celadon” (Behn’s pseudonym for Scot in her correspondences) remain murky, there is evidence that Behn’s attempt at intrigue failed, and Scot betrayed her to the Dutch.

As for the “Merry Monarch”, King Charles II.  After the execution of his father Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Charles II was declared king, but was quickly denied power as the Commonwealth of England seized it, leaving England without a monarch for the first and only time in its history.

The Cromwell Regime ran the Commonwealth from 1653-1659, beginning with Oliver Cromwell being named Lord Protector of England and ending at the overthrow of Cromwell’s son, Richard, in 1659.  Though Oliver Cromwell served as leader of a supposed English Republic, he was afforded many of the same luxuries as the royals that predated him, living in the same palaces and holding sole power over the government – even being offered the title of King, which he turned down.  

Cromwell’s rule over the Commonwealth came along with many reforms based in his Puritan beliefs, which included stricter observances of Sunday, greater punishments for swearing, and making adultery a capital offence. Further acts were passed to punish actors, minstrel performers, fiddlers, and other “vagrants”, as well as gamblers with the severity of rogues and thieves.  No stores or manufacturers could do business on a Sunday, and even travel was forbidden without a writ from a justice attesting to its necessity.      

In 1660, Charles II was reinstated as king, and the reformation period began.  It was under his rule that Charles reopened the theatres that Cromwell had closed, allowing the King’s and Duke’s companies to form, and allowing both companies to hire women.  Nell Gwyn was a young daughter of a brothel madam, who sold oranges at performances at the King’s Company theatre.  Within a span of a few years, Gwyn became the lead actress and most famous comedic performer in the country at the time.  Her fame earned her the attention of the King, eventually becoming one of his many mistresses and bearing him two illegitimate sons.  Gwyn is hailed as something of a folk heroine, an embodiment of rags-to-riches, having been born poor and fatherless under the strict Cromwell regime only to rise to fame and money through her talent as an actress, and later by becoming lover to the king himself.