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Performing Arts

Agatha Christie comes to Bayfield

Bayfield High School Performing Arts Department stages ‘Murder on the Nile’
“Murder on the Nile” character, Dr. Bessner (Natalie O’Hair) tends to the bullet wound of aristocrat Simon Mostyn, while Lousie the maid (Freya Underwood) and William Smith (Payton Cordova) try to get to the bottom of things. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

American actor and producer Clarke Peters once said, “You need to make mistakes in rehearsal because that’s how you find out what works and what doesn’t.”

On Thursday afternoon, the players of the Bayfield High School theater department were doing just that, as they dressed in their costumes, worked out their blocking and recited their lines as they rehearsed their production of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile.”

There was a confidence among the actors, too, and an eagerness to improve, particularly at the instruction of the play’s director and Bayfield’s drama coach, Claire Harvey. Harvey, a graduate of Bayfield High School who spent some time pursuing a music career in Los Angeles, has an ease with the students: Whether asking them to slow down their lines, turn toward the audience or allowing a fellow actor finish their monologue before reciting their lines.

“These are multitalented students here,” said Harvey said. “They have so many things going on in their lives with school and activities, so there’s a lot of scheduling conflicts. Sometimes they’re gone with another school group on the weekends, and then come back late on Sunday, and then go to school all day, and then come here to rehearse the play.”

If you go

WHAT: Bayfield High School Performing Arts Department presents Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 16) and Thursday.

WHERE: Bayfield High School, 800 County Road 501, Bayfield.

Though the play is a murder mystery, there is plenty of humor and silliness. Students play up the eccentricities of their characters: exaggerating expressions, flailing about on stage and delivering lines with gusto.

Christie’s books are known for eccentric and theatrical characters, archetypes often covering the socioeconomic spectrum of her time, from the obscenely wealthy to members of the rising bourgeoisie to the invisible working class struggling to survive in 1930s Great Britain. The characters of 1942’s “Murder on the Nile” are no exception.

The Bayfield High School actors rehearse a scene in “Murder on the Nile.” (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Based on one of Christie’s most famous works, the 1937 novel “Death on the Nile,” the play is standard fare for a murder mystery filled with the most likely of suspects: the wealthy and snobby Miss Ffoliot-ffoulkes (played by Claire Sarnow); Louise the French maid (Freya Underwood); the steward and head waiter lurking in the background (Nathan Sears); the wisecracking socialist, William Smith (Payton Cordova); and the nervous priest, Canon Pennefather (Donald Ledvina).

Twenty-eight students are participating in the play’s production. Twelve are playing the primary characters, six are participating in the ensemble cast, five in the Pantomime cast, and the rest in the crew, which includes Charlie Caselles working as the stage manager, Drew Russell and Alex Sears on sound and light design, Kristi Smith on set design, and Jessica Semler on costume design. All have jobs to do and rush around the theater, working together to bring Christie’s murder mystery to life.


Nervous and jittery character, Cannon Pennefather (Donald Ledvina), ponders who could have committed a Murder on the Nile. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald.