Earthly Bodies is in
the key of Agatha Christie

Colleen Curran’s latest dramatic reading at McGill’s Redpath Museum

By Byron Toben

Local playwright/actor Colleen Curran (20 plays, 3 novels) has also been holding dramatic readings of some of her new scripts for several years now at McGill’s Redpath Museum, as part of its Science on Stage series.

One, True Nature, about a pre-Darwin young female paleontologist, became a full scale Centaur show in 2011. Another, Picturesque, about the Beaver Hall women painters of the 1920s became a Dawson Theatre presentation in 2018.

Her pieces are quite informative and always very funny, with Seinfeld-like contemporary references. The most recent, Earthly Bodies, two playlets about hidden corpses, was read on March 24 last.

Carter opening King Tut’s tomb -

Howard Carter and associates opening the shrine doors in King Tut’s burial chamber – Image: Harry Burton [Public domain]

As that date coincided with the 100th birthday of poet/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (still around in San Francisco), Colleen’s cast read my favourite of his poems, Dog, to start things off.

(More about my own Ferlinghetti event in 1996 at the end of this review.)

The first short playlet, Tut Tut, was about the discovery in 1922 of the tomb of King Tut (Tutankhamen, the boy king of ancient Egypt, who died at age 9 and was entombed in 1323 BCE in a solid gold casket within, Russian Doll-style, two other outer caskets). Ms Curran researched a bit about the process of mummification as background.

Norman Mailer fans may remember his exhaustive description in his Ancient Evenings.

Set in a Cairo hotel on the eve of the opening, it posits a conversation between archeologist/discoverer Howard Carter (Chad Tyler) and Lady Evelyn Carnarvon (Patsy Tyler). Her father, Lord Carnarvon, had financed the “dig”. She reveals a desire for intimacy but this is unrequited by his stiff upper lip resolve to be fresh for the job.

The second playlet, The Sunset Gals, fast forwards to today’s Canada. The discovery of two male corpses, one buried, one frozen, becomes a topic of gossip between two local ladies, Carson (Mary Burns) and Trudy (Sylvia Cymbalista), as well as the consternation of another, Adelaide (Jane Hackett), a do-gooder who runs a food bank. Finding whether the deaths were by accident or design, and if the latter, who done it, is up to local female cop Juliette (Ms Curran herself) aided by her sniffer dog Brandy (Ron Morissette).

Agatha Christie with archaeologist husband -

Agatha Christie with second husband Max Mallowan in Tell Halaf, 1930s – Image: Public domain

Murder mysteries are an ever-popular subject for authors. There are an increasing number of female authors with a female detective/solver. Witness Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, and others.

One cannot omit the third best selling author of all time (exceeded only by Shakespeare and the Bible), Agatha Christie. Her Miss Marple adds her to this category. Also, she was a keen fan of archeology and usually accompanied her second husband archeologist to his explorations, all of which led me to title this review “in the Key of Agatha Christie”.

Will Officer Juliette evolve as a Canadian Miss Marple? Keep tuned.

Oh yes, back to Ferlinghetti, now 100 years old and still with us. In 1996, when he was but 77, I organized a tribute to him at theatre La Chapelle, featuring top readers Stan Asher, Tom Fox, Patrick Goddard, Ian Ferrier, Laura Mitchell, Janis Kirshner and Colleen Curran, among others. As organizer, I insisted on doing his Dog myself and am available for other performances thereof.

Mr Toben’s other favourite “prose poets” are Don Marquis, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins and Al Purdy. He is contemplating organizing an evening of one or more of these. Let Westmount Magazine know which you might wish to hear.

Feature image: Idej Elixe [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsBouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre –

Read more articles from Byron Toben

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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