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Theater Review: This ‘Train’ bound for fun at Playhouse

“The Ghost Train” takes fans of Agatha Christie plays and stage comedy-thrillers on an entertaining, humorous and surprising journey.

The play boasts a whodunit plot twist akin to a railroad train track switch. I didn’t see it coming. There will be no spoilers, or derailments, here.

The old switcheroo works splendidly in “The Ghost Train,” through April 2, The Pennsylvania Playhouse, thanks to Director Andrew Maldonado, the excellent cast and impressive production values. The March 18 performance was seen for this review.

Maldonado is aware that “The Ghost Train,” written in 1923 by English actor-playwright Arnold Ridley, is in essence jolly good fun and he conducts, pun intended, the cast with that destination in mind, and they perform with understanding, quirkiness and passion, all of which add up to a rollicking good time for the theater-goer. I eagerly looked forward to Act 2 after the conclusion of Act 1 and laughed out loud frequently at the carryings-on.

Maldonado realizes a modicum of reality must be established for the play and maintains a realistic tone throughout among the eccentric and often irascible characters in the drawing-room comedy that happens to take place in a waiting room. Assistant Director is Sarah J. Davis.

In ”The Ghost Train,” two couples are stranded in a train station one night in Clear Vale Junction, on a branch line near Rockland, Me. The time frame is the 1920s. The gambit is that the station is haunted by a ghost train that passes by under certain circumstances, owing to a previous fatal train wreck.

Matthew Contakes plays station master Saul Hodgkin with an amusing cantankerousness as perfect as the walrus mustache on his face.

Couple No. 1 is the beleaguered Richard Winthrop (whimsically-apologetic Stephen Simone, who successfully conveys the mood of a husband in the dog house with a puppy-like desire to fetch the slippers) and Elsie Winthrop (Bryanna Pye, adamant and strongly independent as a fetching flapper character she coquettishly and charmingly portrays).

Couple No. 2 is the bright-eyed Peggy Murdock (Mackenzie Schmidt, wonderfully bubbly and upbeat) and Charles Murdock (Evan Heger, who captures the durable dedication of a bridegroom who only wants the best honeymoon for his bride).

Several others join the fray of the delay:

Miss Bourne (Beth Sucro, giving the grandest of performances as an Auntie Mame type who becomes, shall we say, very saucy in the play’s funniest scene of physical comedy);

Teddie Deakin (Larry Mason, who effectively transitions from overbearing nudge to, well, that would be telling);

Julia Price (Alyssa Steiner, hysterically funny in creating a woman so overcome by fear that it might be dubbed PTGS (Post-Traumatic Ghost Syndrome);

Heather Price (Judy Evans, creatively playing a woman too clever by far);

Jackson (Tom Gilmore, convincing as the doctor in the house, er, train station), and

Jackson (Deven Windisch, who provides one of the play’s startling jump-scare moments).

Credit the light and set design by Brett Oliveira, as well as light board operator Corrine Philbin and sound board operator Bethany Wentling, for replicating the tricky and believable locomotive train lights and sounds.

The costumes by Todd Burkel are stunning, with the men in conservative suits and sport coats and trousers (and even a pair of co-respondent shoes on one of the men), and the women in fabulous frocks, from gauzy black to fire-engine red.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, whodunits, and a fun night out at the theater, get your ticket and climb on board “The Ghost Train,” a truly charming production at The Pennsylvania Playhouse.

“The Ghost Train” continues, 7:30 p.m. March 25, 31, April 1; 3 p.m. 26, April 2, Pennsylvania Playhouse, 390 Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem. 610-865-6665; http://www.paplayhouse.org/

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY COREY MULLINS From left: Beth Sucro (Miss Bourne), Stephen Simone (Richard Winthrop), Matthew Contakes (Saul Hodgkin), Bryanna Pye (Elsie Winthrop), Evan Heger (Charlie Murdock), Mackenzie Schmidt (Peggy Murdock), Larry Mason (Teddie Deakin), “The Ghost Train,” The Pennyslvania Playhouse.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY COREY MULLINS From left, seated: Alyssa Steiner (Julia Price), Tom Gilmore (Dr. John Sterling), “The Ghost Train,” The Pennyslvania Playhouse.