Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Laurel Mill Playhouse Black Coffee

By • Mar 29th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
Laurel Mill Playhouse
Laurel Mill Playhouse, Laurel, MD
Through April 3rd
2:45 with two intermissions
$13/$10 Students, Seniors, Military
Reviewed March 26th, 2011

Black Coffee is the first play written by Agatha Christie. Taking place in 1930, a physicist comes up with a formula for the hydrogen bomb, but during a family gathering the physicist is murdered and the formula is stolen. In typical Christie fashion the writer keeps you guessing and, at points, chortling over the humor in this Christie whodunit.

Sir Claud Armory (Brian Binney) entered the stage with a commanding yet preoccupied air, typical of an intelligent man. Binney’s anger was real and very evident on his scowling face as he locked everyone in the room to demand the stolen formula be returned. Members of his family, household staff, and co-workers are all potentially the thief. Sir Claud has called his friend, Inspector Hercule Poirot, to the house to help find the missing formula. Unfortunately for Sir Claud, Poirot arrives a bit too late.

The suave, unruffled Poirot, played by Larry Simmons, quickly took control of the situation and left no stone unturned as he sought to catch a killer and thief. Simmons’ simple and direct questions were in stark contrast to the more excitable Captain Arthur Hastings O.B.E., played by Richard Atha-Nichols. A real gung-ho character who always seemed to jump to the wrong conclusion, but was willing to keep on trying for the sport of it. He was a good balance to the more sedate Simmons.

Since none of the family was quite what they seemed, with hidden pasts and potentially ruinous secrets, the cast worked well to keep the audience guessing. Lucia Armory, husband to Richard Armory, was an emotional wreck. Many tears were supposedly shed as the poor woman (played by Belle Constantine) she seemed to only be able to tell the truth to Inspector Poirot, who kept her dark past safe. Spunky and cynical Barbara Armory had her cap set for Sir Arthur Hastings and the two of them made a good believable team as they seemed to continually have a need to “check out the gardens.”

With a cast of twelve there were times when the small space seemed crowded. Black Coffee was a show with a lot of sitting and talking which was fine, if not a bit boring at times as Poirot questioned everyone in great detail, if you were seated in the front row, but the farther back from the stage the view had the potential to become obstructed when the actors entered and sat down. The accents were also not very consistent. Poirot kept his French accent pretty well. There were some others that managed the English upper crust dialect, but others did not even try. Set Designer and director Mark T. Allen made good use of entrances and exits to allow for a comedic touch that proved useful in the end. The set was also well maintained and period appropriate.

This inaugural Agatha Christie mystery will keep you guessing until the end.

Director’s Notes

Directing an Agatha Christie mystery is always a challenge. It takes a true team effort to properly present all the red herrings she plants throughout the story, as well as the true clues to the mystery, without telegraphing anything. At the same time, keeping in mind that a not insignificant portion of the audience is familiar with the story and is watching to see how well we present Dame Agatha’s misdirections, and finding ways to bring out all the humorous touches she sprinkles throughout her tales.

Black Coffee is the first play Dame Agatha wrote, as a result of her being dissatisfied with someone else’s adaptation of one of her novels. True aficionados will undoubtedly see elements she borrowed from her earlier novels, which probably explains why she never adapted it into a prose work. Nevertheless it stands out well on its own. Hope you enjoy.

Photo Gallery

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Photo provided by Laurel Mill Playhouse


  • Tredwell: Bernie Noeller
  • Lucia Armory: Belle Constantine
  • Miss Caroline Armory: Maureen Rogers
  • Richard Armory: Jeff Mocho
  • Barbara Armory: Dana Medford
  • Edward Raynor: Korry Twitt
  • Dr. Carelli: Steve Izant
  • Sir Claud Armory: Brian Binney
  • Hercule Poirot: Larry Simmons
  • Captain Arthur Hastings, O.B.E: Richard Atha-Nicholls
  • Dr. Graham: Doug Silverman
  • Inspector Japp: Bernie Noeller
  • Johnson: Calvin DaSilva


  • Director: Mark T. Allen
  • Producer: Maureen Rogers
  • Stage Manager: Lori Bruun
  • Lights and Sound Operators: Lori Bruun, Diana Simmons, Maya Taylor
  • Set Design: Mark T. Allen, Michael Hartsfield
  • Light/Sound Design: Mark T. Allen
  • Set Construction: Mark T. Allen, Lori Bruun, John Martin, Dwight Sullivan
  • Set Painting/Set Dressing: Mark T. Allen, Lori Bruun, Anne Hull
  • Costumes: Mark T. Allen and Cast
  • Hair/Make-Up: Larry Weidman and Cast
  • Properties: Mark T. Allen, Lori Bruun, Diana Simmons, Larry Simmons
  • Poster: Maureen Rogers
  • Program/publicity: Maureen Rogers
  • Head Shot Photos/Post Cards: Brian Binney
  • Box Office, Reservations & Concessions: Nedret Constantine, Julie Rogers, Maureen Rogers
  • Webmaster: John Cholod

Disclaimer: Laurel Mill Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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