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Love, loss and a murderous ride on the 'Orient Express'

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | September 14, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Tim Bangle was in high school when he joined a drama group at Sandpoint High School.

"I loved it from the first play that we did," the Sandpoint resident said.

After graduating and life taking him in other directions, Bangle recently got back into theater, directing a play with his son, Lukas, and joining Lake Pend Oreille Repertory Theater.

Most of his efforts have been behind the scenes, most recently working as the sound designer for LPO Rep's production of "Into the Woods". However, Bangle said he couldn't help but be intrigued by a challenge by LPO Rep founder Keely Gray, inviting others to try their hand at directing.

He'd thought about directing for a while but was unsure of whether it was right for him.

But when Gray called for volunteers to direct upcoming productions, Bangle knew he had to give it a try. It wasn't long, he said, before he was captivated by the idea of staging a production of "Murder on the Orient Express".

After talking to Gray, Bangle said her only advice was to find a show that interested him.

Bangle came across the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery while doing an internet search for popular stage plays. He wanted the play to be familiar but wanted something that allowed him to take a fresh approach.

Not because he is a fan of thrillers, murder mysteries, and whodunits, but because at the heart of it, for him, the play is about love or the loss of love, Bangle said.

"There is a kind of love — an intrinsic love that's kind of sewn throughout the entire show — that drew me into it," he said. "You got these … people who were drastically affected by the murder of the little girl, and they were driven by the loss of that love. And even [Hercule] Poirot, he's driven by the love of law and order."

In the play, Christie's famed Belgian detective character must find out what happened after a passenger is found stabbed to death on the train blocked by an avalanche.

Bangle wasn't necessarily looking to avoid the genre; he just had never been drawn to it growing up. Instead, his attention was captured by dramas, fantasy, and science fiction. Directed by his son, Bangle was involved in the filming and production of the dystopian indie film "Fade: The Resistance", which premiered at the Panida in 2022.

In addition to its theme of love, "Murder" is also a story about justice, Bangle said.

"It is really a story, ultimately, about justice, and the characters that pursued murdering this guy are out for justice," he said. "He was tried and got away with it. So they're out to give him the justice that they think he needs."

His primary goal in casting for the play was to find actors who both had chemistry with each other but were also able to maintain character. Because the play takes place within the confines of a train trapped by an alpine avalanche, both were critical to placing the audience at the scene.

Bangle used his film background to add a few twists and nuances to the play, among them filming background scenes for Daisy, a murder victim whose death spurs the actions of the others. He also films the murder of a character on the train, which is shown as a flashback at the end of the play as Poirot reveals the findings of his investigation.

The blending of the two is a technique that isn't often used but brings power and emotion to the play, Bangle said.

"I have never cried in a theater production," he said after explaining his decision to blend stage productions and movies. "I've been in the theater and around theater for a long time, and the show made me cry that first time when we got to that last scene."

In the scene, Bangle said the audience both sees the murder take place and also watches as the case is solved.

In addition to blending film and stage, Bangle also brought the character of Daisy into the rest of the play as a sort of ghost or apparition.

"She contributes to the emotion and the power in that final scene in ways that I didn't foresee," Bangle said.

Another unique aspect of the play is the background set — a large 7-foot by 10-foot book that allows the scenes to form the backdrop while paying homage to the literary classic that inspired the play.

The device plays into the Art Deco period during which the play is set, creating vignettes that allow the audience to see scenes and actions that take place beyond the confines of the train.

"I hope [the audience] finds it as thrilling as it's designed to be," Bangle said. "Movies have a way of drawing us closer to the emotions of the story than the stage sometimes does."

He hopes the audience enjoys the play and connects to its universal themes of love, justice, and loss.

"What I hope the audience gets from it is to feel that love," Bangle said. "We've all lost people in our lives, and I'm sure, to a certain point, we could be pushed to take similar actions toward justice of someone that may have been murdered or whatnot."

Bangle has always loved the theater, getting hooked at an early age. However, he took a long break from theater to focus on his family and business. He recently got back into theater when his son expressed an interest in directing a film.

"There's something magical about it," he said. "There's a collaboration in theater that is missing in a lot of the world."

That collaboration "fuels his soul," Bangle said, adding that community theater gives him the ability to work, be with his family, and pursue his love of theater — all at the same time.

Cast members are: Hercule Poirot, Steven Hammond; Monsieur Bouc, Cory Repass; Countess Andrenyi, Britt Hagen; Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, Ashley Shalbreck; Caroline Hubbard, Dorothy Prophet; Pierre Michel, McCallum Morgan; Hector MacQueen, Myla Mckechnie; Greta Ohlsson, Suzann McLamb; Mary Debenham, Holly Beaman; Colonel John Arbuthnot, Michael Bigley; Samuel Ratchett, Mark West; Daisy, Sofia West/Estella Simmons; Suzanne, Mattie Patterson. Crew members include Myriah Bell, stage manager; Wesleigh Hammond, lights; Kehle Hatch, sound; Vicki Turnbull, costumes; Valerie Moore, set; Noemi Hatch, props assistant; and Britt Hagen, makeup.

After auditions early this summer, LPO Rep went into rehearsals in July leading up to Friday's opening night show. Additional performances are planned for Saturday, Sept. 16, and Sept. 22-23. Performances begin at 7 p.m. on the Panida stage.

Tickets are $25.

Information: lporep.com

photo

(Courtesy photo)

The cast of "Murder on the Orient Express" are seen in a filmed flashback for the Lake Pend Oreille Repertory Theater production of the classic play.