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‘Indians’ delivers edge-of-seat thrills

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Bjorn Thorstad and Max Robinson star in Pioneer Theatre Company's "Ten Little Indians."

Bjorn Thorstad and Max Robinson star in Pioneer Theatre Company’s “Ten Little Indians.”

Robert Clayton

"TEN LITTLE INDIANS," PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, through Nov. 6 (581-6961). Running time: two hours, 25 minutes (two intermissions).

After 65 years, this Agatha Christie thriller still holds up as a tense, edge-of-your-seat murder mystery.

Ten guests are invited for a weekend on a remote island off the English coast. (Dr. Armstrong, a nerve specialist and the last to arrive, comments that the island seems like a haven of peace. Would you care for a second opinion?)

All 10, including the mysterious host's recently hired staff, are stunned to learn that they've all been implicated — at one time or another — in an assortment of not-quite-natural deaths, dictacted by an old nursery rhyme that has its roots in the British occupation of India.

Justice, it appears, is about to be served.

And, yes, there is a butler. But did he do it?

Guest-directed by Bruce K. Sevy (who was also responsible for last season's masterful production of "Copenhagen"), this timeless classic comes off as polished as a Cold Stream Guard's boots.

The cast is superb, portraying characters whose secret lives suddenly start to unravel as — one by one — they're murdered.

The first to go is Anthony Marston (played by Bjorn Thorstad), a flamboyant soldier of fortune who gets all choked up . . . fatally.

The other deaths over the next two days include the cook, Mrs. Rogers (Trish Reading), retired General Mackenzie (Richard Mathews), prim and stuffy spinster Emily Brent (Alison Edwards) and the butler, Rogers (Paul Kiernan).

The other five grow ever more suspicious of each other. No one wants to leave the room alone.

Then William Blore (Max Robinson) — who may or may not be a detective named Davis — is tripped up by a booby trap . . . and Dr. Armstrong (Michael McKenzie) goes missing along the rugged coast.

Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Patrick Husted) is found dead, mysteriously attired as a barrister, leaving only playboy Philip Lombard and secretary Vera Claythorne (J. Paul Boehmer and Deanne Lorette) to duke it out.

One early arrival in the mansion — Fred Narracott (Mark Gollaher) is the chap who ferries people, goods and mail across the channel. You begin to wonder about his whereabouts.

But remember the rhyme. There's a red herring in the mix.

Bill Black's period costumes, James Wolk's massive set (the mansion is built into the island's cliff), Ann G. Wrightson's lighting and Joe Payne's sound also add to the thrills and chills.

Sensitivity rating: May be too intense for younger children.

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com