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REVIEW: "MURDER ON THE LINKS" — Laguna Playhouse

The Belgium Sleuth Does it Again!


Laguna Playhouse is thrilled to present the continued debut of “Murder on the Links,” based on the 1923 mystery novel by Agatha Christie, featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-running characters, appearing in over 33 novels, two plays (“Black Coffee,” and “Alibi”), and 51 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.


The fictional detective has also been portrayed on radio, in film and on television by various actors, including Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Tony Randall, Orson Welles, and John Malkovich.


(From Left to Right) Jessica Mosher, Matthew Salazar-Thompson, Kim Morgan Dean, Omri Schein, Brian Mackey and Jennifer Erdmann star in the Laguna Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE LINKS, written and directed by Steven Dietz and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

And now, once again, something is definitely afoul on the private golf course at Merlinville-Sur-Mer – namely the body of Hercule Poirot’s newest client. Laguna Playhouse brings the famed Belgian detective to life to solve one of Agatha Christie’s most intricate whodunit murders. Of course, there are the host of usual – and – unusual suspects.


Belgian detective Poirot (Omri Schein) has been summoned to a seaside town in France to assist in solving the murder of a wealthy man stabbed in the back with an unusually crafted knife. Schein personifies Poirot’s dapper and mustachioed eccentricity, walking head-forward and frequently gazing at the audience with an astute twinkle as he makes his inspired — sometimes magical-seeming — deductions.


(From Left to Right) Brian Mackey, Matthew Salazar-Thompson, Jennifer Erdmann, Kim Morgan Dean, Jessica Mosher and Omri Schein star in the Laguna Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE LINKS, written and directed by Steven Dietz and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

Written by acclaimed playwright Steven Dietz (PEN USA Award in Drama for “Lonely Planet;” Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure”), who also directs the production,“Murder on the Links” had its world premiere at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach earlier this spring through May 21st, and continues in that vein currently at Laguna Playhouse. Previews began on May 31st; the show formally opened Sunday, June 4th, and will be performing through Sunday, June 18th with an excellent cast and creative staging, making this stumper dazzlingly delightful.


Agatha Christie’s 300-page novel, “The Murder on the Links” was adapted for the stage by Dietz in 2021 and is performed by an ensemble cast of six versatile actors embodying a myriad of characters as they navigate the twists and turns of this lively and colorfully worded mystery saga.


(From Left to Right) Jennifer Erdmann, Jessica Mosher, Kim Morgan Dean and Omri Schein star in the Laguna Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE LINKS, written and directed by Steven Dietz and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

To help the audience understand what is going on, Poirot’s frequent companion, Captain Hastings, becomes a narrator for most of the play, filling in details that the mystery would have covered. The cast of the play begins the performance by explaining what their roles would be so the audience would have some understanding of what they are seeing unfold.


The actors work with minimal props such as tables, chairs, picture frames and flash-changing of costuming, sometimes with just a hat. One scene in particular produced waves of laughter when a ratherish crime scene board was taken to the extreme by the entire cast using a set of costumed lawn-bowling pins to represent main characters.


(From Left to Right) Kim Morgan Dean, Omri Schein and Brian Mackey star in the Laguna Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE LINKS, written and directed by Steven Dietz and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

In the original Christie novel, we find a similar plotline. Detective Poirot receives a letter from Paul Renauld, asking him to come to his home in Merlinville-Sur-Mer, France. The letter intrigues Poirot and he and his companion, Captain Hastings, journey to the French countryside home situated on a golf resort, only to find the owner has been murdered. He was found face down in a grave on the edge of the golf course, killed by a knife in the back.


With this as a premise, Dietz wanted to keep the overall plot intact, except adding a unique twist — making this murder mystery into a comedy. Further adding to this twist, he took the large number of characters in Christie’s novel, and had all the roles performed by only 6 actors, an ensemble style similar to “The 39 Steps.” All of the actors are required to be nimble, bold, quick on their feet, adept at multiple accents, and highly skilled at comedy – both verbal and physical.


(From Left to Right) Omri Schein, Jessica Mosher and Kim Morgan Dean star in the Laguna Playhouse production of MURDER ON THE LINKS, written and directed by Steven Dietz and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach

The result is incredible, high energy performances by Omri Schein and Kim Morgan Dean. Matthew Salazar-Thompson plays seven characters, Jennifer Erdmann also plays seven characters, Brian Mackey plays four characters and Jessica Mosher plays five. The two-hour play turns Christie’s melodrama into a raucous parody that pokes fun at theatrical conventions and transforms the famously fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot into a wild-eyed cartoonish creation.


Just a give a better perspective on the diminutive gumshoe at the hand of Agatha Christie, Captain Hastings’ first description of Poirot upon first meeting him was as follows:

“He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military.


Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of his moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man…had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.”


In “Curtain,” Agatha Christie’s last novel about Poirot, he finally admits to Hastings that he has been wearing a wig and a false moustache for all those years. It’s true, in many of his screen incarnations, he is bald or balding. But in that, his last novel, Poirot unfortunately succumbs to a heart attack, and is honored to be the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.


But somehow, the precocious detective seems to live on and on. If you’d like to screen his latest movie, check out the 2022 Ridley Scott film, “Death on the Nile,” with a host of stars, including “Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot, Russell Brand and Annette Bening, and starring Kenneth Branagh as the scrappy little detective.


LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE, CELEBRATING 100 YEARS, PRESENTS: NORTH COAST REPERTORY THEATRE’S PRODUCTION OF “MURDER ON THE LINKS,” written and directed by STEVEN DIETZ, from the novel by AGATHA CHRISTIE; scenic design by MARTY BURNETT; lighting design by MATT NOVOTNY; costume design by ELISA BENZONI; composer & sound design by ROBERTSON WITMER; prop design by RACHEL HENGST; hair & wig design by PETER HERMAN; production stage manager MARY MICHELE MINER/VERNON WILLET.


WITH: KIM MORGAN DEAN as Captain Hastings • JENNIFER ERDMANN as Woman One • BRIAN MACKEY as Man Two • JESSICA MOSHER as Woman Two • OMRI SCHEIN as Hercule Poirot • MATTHEW SALAZAR-THOMPSON as Man One • ALYSSA ANNE AUSTIN as Understudy


“MURDER ON THE LINKS” runs June 5th through June 18th with performances at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd. in Laguna Beach. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 7:30PM; and Sundays at 1:00PM and 5:30PM. Tickets range from $56-81 and can be purchased at www.lagunaplayhouse.com or by calling (949) 497-2787.





Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report



PHOTO CREDITS: Aaron Rumley







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