In ‘Murder On the Orient Express,’ Student Actors Dig Deep

Friends Upper Schoolers will bring Agatha Christie’s classic mystery to the stage this weekend, in a show that marks a beginning for some, an ending for others.


Vanya Gurachevsky

The cast of Murder on the Orient Express rehearses their shock ahead of opening night.

Vanya Gurachevsky, Staff Writer

A legendary train stuck in the snowy night. A resourceful and cunning detective. A mysterious murder. All these and more will be brought to the stage at Friends School of Baltimore this week, by director Robert W. Oppel and a wonderful cast of your fellow students. 

Our show, The Murder on the Orient Express, is a timeless classic of Agatha Christie’s, adapted for the stage by playwright Ken Ludwig. The play follows a group of eccentric and diverse passengers riding together on the Orient Express, a real-life train service founded in 1883.

When the train is halted by an avalanche and a passenger is mysteriously murdered, world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Noah Sheasby ‘24) races against time to find the killer before they strike again. 


Mr. Oppel, a theater technician & teacher at Friends, says he chose Murder on the Orient Express for this fall’s play because it would challenge actors to go deeper into their characters than they’re used to.

“I wanted to do one that was not so much set up to be a farce,” he said, “but more of a character-driven, slower one where there was more of an option for the actors to create realistic characters with some layers to them.” 

Oppel says his favorite part of rehearsal is always the part after blocking (the theatrical term for planning out each character’s movements) the scenes, when he feels he can take a deep dive into every character.

“We can really explore the characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he says. “As opposed to just, ‘Okay, move here when you say this,’ we say ‘Why are you moving here when you’re saying this? What are you doing when you’re not saying anything?’ ” 

The cast agrees. Claire Carducci ‘23, who plays Hellen Hubbard, says that the excitement of seeing everyone deeply embody their character far outweighs the stress of tech week (the final week of rehearsals).

“It’s fun to see how, in just a week, things change so much, and everyone grows more into their characters,” she says. “Of course, once you start getting sets and costumes and everything really starts coming together, you start to see the show, and it makes you feel more in character.”

Asha Chhetri ‘26, who plays Mary Debenham and is the only freshman on the show, says she is excited to learn more about what it means to fully become a character.

“I’m excited to learn how to become the character that I’m supposed to be,” says Asha, “Because I’m very similar to the character that I’m supposed to be playing, but also at times she’s really extra, and I need to put that out there.”

Asha says Oppel has helped to cultivate a learning environment in which she can figure out how to do that.

“Mr. Oppel’s always, like, crazy or frantic, or something like that!” she says. “He’s always giving you those keywords, and I know I’m like, ‘Okay, I have to be this much.’ ”

  Teaching acting

Oppel says he has had a passion for the stage since his own high school days. But his passion for teaching began when he took a directing job at a local college.

At that point, he had been taking all sorts of theater-related jobs he could find. Not because he was trying to become a director, but because he loved theater and wanted to be a part of it.

But directing a group of 19-21-year-olds made Oppel realize that, with them, it was more than directing – it was teaching, too. He wasn’t just responsible for telling a group of experienced actors where to go and what to do. He had to show the actors how to work their craft and become someone else, as much as they could. 

“I really liked the willingness to explore characters, and to explore characters in different ways, whether it be through physicality, imagination. It was just fun,” he says. “A few years later, the job opened up here, and that’s how I ended up here!”

Now, at Friends, Oppel directs shows and teaches several courses in the Upper School, including Playwriting, Craft of Acting, and Stagecraft. 

The stagecraft aspect of a show is essential – but stage crews themselves are rarely supposed to be seen. Oppel says there’s a particular satisfaction in being part of that invisible team, helping to bring a production to life.

“There’s something to be said about doing something for the public, but not for the attention of the job you’ve done. That’s one of the key things about being on stage crew:  that you don’t really get noticed,” he says, after years of working on stage crews and building sets of his own.

“I like the idea of creating these worlds. Whether they be a Dungeons and Dragons world, or a deserted island, I just like making them come to life on stage and figuring out how specific and conceptual you can be.”

It’s impossible to overstate how important the work of our stage crew at Friends is to this production. From the students in the booth running lights and sound, to those backstage moving set pieces and props, no show could survive without them. Students who build the sets themselves are often never seen or even included on the program for a show – despite the fact that they construct the whole backbone of a production. 

  Hellos and goodbyes

Murder on the Orient Express marks a new beginning for some cast members, and a bittersweet end for others.

“I’ve been doing theater for a really long time, and it makes me happy. It’s my senior year, and I wanted to be a part of my senior show,” said Claire, who says she hopes to major in theater when she goes to college next year. She also hopes to pursue professional theater as her career path. 

This is Claire’s final fall play at Friends. As high school begins to draw to a close for her, she reminisces about the role theater played in her formative years.

“Theater is a very integral part of my life. It was just something that I always had, like I could escape, I guess, to fun little worlds and stuff, and no one could really take that away from me,” she says. “Especially in middle school and stuff, when I didn’t really have many outlets to express myself, theater was a really great place to do that.” 

Asha, on the other hand, is acting in her first high school show at Friends. She says she hopes it will be the first of many.

“I’m pretty invested in the acting at Friends,” she says.

As a freshman, Asha’s not yet sure how big a role theater will play in her life.

“After doing this one and having my first big role, I will definitely participate more in plays and musicals,” she says. “But thinking like future future-wise, I’m not sure how I’m going to incorporate this as a job, or if it’s just, like, a hobby, you know? I’ll have to figure that out.”  

But already, she says, doing theater at Friends has made her a more open person.

“People think about the stereotype, like, ‘Oh there’s theater kids, and then all those other kids.’ And I think that like… it’s just people having fun, you know?” she says. “Like you see them singing in the hall sometimes; I guess that song is really good!”

  Come aboard!

The cast are incredibly excited to share the story of Murder on the Orient Express with the Friends community! Mr. Oppel says he wants audiences to just enjoy it.

“I don’t want audiences to just sit there and think about the amount of work the cast and crew put in. I want audiences to be able to be transported to the dining car of a train, and I want them to be an active audience member, letting themselves get caught up and engaged,” he says.

Claire agrees.

“Come see it!” she says. “Go follow @fsbtheatrics on Instagram!”

Friends School’s Murder on the Orient Express opens Friday, November 11th at 7:30 pm. There will be two more performances: on Saturday, November 12th at 7:30 pm, and a matinee on Sunday, November 13th at 2.

I myself will be playing your Head Waiter in the show. On behalf of the whole cast and crew, we hope you’ll join us on the Orient Express!