Actor aims to carve own niche as Poirot

Magenta Theater stages Christie's 'Black Coffee'

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



There are pitfalls to playing a well-known character like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, even if it is in a play that's not often produced.

A longtime fan of the author, Tony Provenzola has read almost every book and admires the portrayals of Poirot by actors like David Suchet and Peter Ustinov, he said.

If you go

• What: The Magenta Theater presents "Black Coffee," a Hercule Poirot murder mystery by Agatha Christie.

• Where: 606 Main St., Vancouver.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22; 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 16 and 23.

• Cost: $12.

• Information: or call 360-635-4358.

But when Provenzola got the call to play the role in The Magenta Theater's production of Christie's "Black Coffee," he was worried.

"First I was excited, and then I was scared," Provenzola said. "A lot of people have a set idea of Poirot."

One hurdle was trying to speak with the character's signature Belgian accent. Provenzola worked with a language coach to master the nuances, but in the process it seems to have altered his ability to do a British English accent, he said.

"You have to get into a certain mode," he said. "It's hard to just slip into it and back out of it."

"I'm sure my wife is tired of hearing it," he added with a laugh.

The bigger concern, though, is watching and being familiar with other actors' performances in the role.

"I've watched them, but there's always a danger with that," Provenzola said. "I want to play Poirot, I don't want to play another actor playing Poirot."

That's not something he really needs to worry about though, said Jaynie Roberts, artistic director for the theater.

"I keep giggling because he's so perfect at it," Roberts said. "Also (Curtis Hope), the man who plays Capt. Arthur Hastings, the clueless sidekick, has done such a great job. He's so not clueless in real life, but he's so believable, I just keep laughing."

Roberts chose the play a year ago, but she first came across it in 2000, a few years before she founded the theater.

"It's not well known," she said. "I haven't met anybody who had heard of it before we started working on it."

"Black Coffee" is Christie's first play. The author wrote it in 1929 after growing frustrated with portrayals of Poirot in stage productions of her books adapted by other writers.

Her most popular play is probably "The Mousetrap," written in 1952.

"Black Coffee" is a bit ahead of its time when it comes to the nuclear era. In it, Poirot and his sidekick go to the home of a famous physicist who is afraid someone has stolen the formula for an atomic weapon. When they arrive, they discover the physicist has been murdered, and the pair must narrow down the suspects from a wide pool.

"It's interesting to see this written before the atomic bomb was well known," said Amanda Goff, the director. "I was fascinated when I read it."

The play won't really leave the audience pondering any deeper meanings of the nature of humanity, but it's certainly entertaining to watch, she said.

"It's more for fun, there's not a specific moral to the story -- other than if you try to get away with something, you'll get caught," Goff said.

The play opened Nov. 8 and will continue through Nov. 23.

"It's a great story," Provenzola said. "It seems very before its time. I don't think Agatha Christie fans will be disappointed."