Ken Ludwig Spotted on the Orient Express

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY FEB 21, 2020

Playwright Ken Ludwig is very much a man of the moment. He pens his material, works with the premiering production, then moves on to his next project. “I have an odd quirk about my work,” he says, “I feel that if I go see my shows, I’m sort of living in the past.” So, even after the critical acclaim, the prestigious awards and over 1000 productions a year of his work, he still wakes up to find himself riding the train of his creativity forward. And sometimes, the train stops unexpectedly or jumps tracks towards a new destination.

In the case of his stage adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the unexpected came from the estate of Agatha Christie. With the last stage adaptation of Christie’s work being produced over 30 years ago, the estate was looking to get back into the theatre game to keep her legacy alive and relevant. “I won an Edgar Award years ago for a mystery play I wrote called ‘The Game’s Afoot,’” says Ludwig, “so maybe it was that, but somehow my name came up with the estate and they asked if I wanted to adapt one of her stories.” His response was resoundingly in the affirmative, of course, and the train of Ludwig’s prolific career brought him rather serendipitously to Sarasota.

As many already know, the Asolo debuted its production of “Murder on the Orient Express” in January of this year, opening to much acclaim with its comedically hyperbolic characters and sets that dazzled with their scale and level of detail. What many do not know is that this will only be the second production of “Murder” that Ludwig has seen since the play’s premiere in 2017 in Princeton, New Jersey. But, the Asolo presented Ludwig with an intriguing opportunity, not to be showered with praise and accolades, but to open new lines of possibility in the vast network of Ludwig’s career.

“The Asolo is really gaining prominence in the US,” he says, “they seem to be making a name for themselves on the strength of their management and artistic vision.” And while Ludwig hopes that all of his work can achieve success on the strength of its characters and storytelling, the theatre itself can also contribute to the cause. “It’s a great bonus when there’s a fantastic set,” says Ludwig, and add costumes, actors, directors and location to the list as well. 

Following the 1:30 matinee on Wednesday, Ludwig participated in a Q and A session with a select number of audience members and media personnel, offering commentary on his career, the play in general and the Asolo production specifically. It was an opportunity for Ludwig to meet the passionate theatre buffs that fill the theatre’s seats night in and night out. And perhaps with the glowing success of the Asolo’s “Murder” production, the theatre and Ludwig will find themselves sharing a train car into a future of collaboration. “I wanted to see the theatre and meet the people down here,” he says, “because I’d love for them to do more of my work if the quality is this high.”   

Cliff Roles, caption “Ken Ludwig flanked by James DeVita (Hercule Poirot) on the left and literary manager James Monaghan on the right.”

solo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N, Tamiami Trl., Sarasota, 941-351-8000.

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