A man in a trenchcoat and fedora stands in a doorway, right behind a woman in a purple coat and hat who is also peering around the door.
Andrés Enriquez and Melanie Keller in The Secret Council Credit: Tom McGrath

Note to would-be play adapters: Agatha Christie’s second published detective novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), is in public domain. That means you can pretty much do whatever you want with this text, and still call it an “adaptation.” This is pretty much what First Folio executive artistic director David Rice does here. Extremely loosely based on Christie’s novel, Rice’s version retains the protagonists, the male and female detective team of Tommy (Andrés Enriquez) and Tuppence (Melanie Keller), and a few elements of the original plot, most notably a search for a stolen treaty. But Rice also shovels in additional characters, new plot turns, and lots of witty banter (much of which falls flat). He also shoves the time of the story forward to 1929, seven years after the publication of the original novel. 

The Secret Council
Through 2/27: Wed 8 PM, Thu 3 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM (captioned performances for the deaf and hard of hearing Sat 2/12, 4 PM, and Fri 2/18, 8 PM), First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st, Oak Brook, 630-986-8067, firstfolio.org, $49-$59 ($44-$54 seniors, $20 students).

These additions do allow Rice room to deepen Christie’s trademark paper-thin characters. Still, the end results are disappointing. The show is a saggy bag of meandering scenes, straight-up misfires, and drawn-out dramatic buildups that don’t pay off. It is hard to tell if the fault lies with Rice’s baggy script, with director Brigitte Ditmars’s leaden-paced production, or with the show’s many dispirited performances. Many in the cast seem miscast or underrehearsed—or both. The choice to have actors double and triple roles feels like an attempt at Charles Ludlam-esque camp but only adds a layer of confusion to a play that doesn’t need it. 

Worse still, whenever a scene does manage to end on a dramatic note, the mood is squashed by Christopher Kriz’s goofy but plodding music, which plays during the show’s endless scene changes. Sadly, the real star of the show is Angela Weber Miller’s inventive scene design. Rice’s sprawling adaptation requires a bazillion different settings, and Miller has a set piece for each of them. Which means the most entertaining part of the production comes from watching tables and chairs and moving walls being put into place, or being whisked away for the next lifeless scene.