Perfect for Poirot: Kharfen has lead role in Schenectady Civic Playhouse’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

Michael Kharfen, Scott Brown and Martin O’Connor, left to right, share the stage in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Jenn Moak)

Michael Kharfen, Scott Brown and Martin O’Connor, left to right, share the stage in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “Murder on the Orient Express.” (Jenn Moak)

SCHENECTADY – When Michael Kharfen first walked into the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, it was love at first sight.

“When I moved here I wanted to acquaint myself with the local theater groups, so I went to several in the area and was very impressed when I saw ‘The Cake’ at Schenectady Civic,” said Kharfen, a Brattleboro, Vermont, native who spent nearly three decades in Washington, D.C. before relocating to Rensselaer about a year and half ago. “The production itself was very good and the theater and the stage was very impressive. For a community theater group to have their own performance space like the one at Schenectady Civic was great. I was walking around when I first went there and I was like, ‘wow, this is really cool.’ ”

That was earlier this year in May. Kharfen kept his eye on audition notices and when he saw that the Schenectady Civic Players were producing Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” he showed up and earned the role of Inspector Hercules Poirot. The show opens Friday and runs through Nov. 20.

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“I’ve always loved that story so I decided to go to the audition and give it a shot,” said Kharfen. “I walked in a complete stranger, not knowing anyone.”

He did make an immediate impression, however, on directors Cristine Loffredo and Mark Stephens.

“The moment he started to read for the part, I grabbed Mark’s arm and we just stared at each other,” said Loffredo. “Neither of us had to say anything. We both knew that he was our Poirot.”

While he may be new to the Schenectady Civic Players, Kharfen isn’t new to the stage. While going to high school in the Boston area after his family left Vermont, Kharfen began performing and continued through college.

“I had a momentary aspiration to become a professional actor, but that quickly faded,” said Kharfen. “I found the life of being an actor in New York City quite daunting, so I shelved that idea. But when I did move to Washington, D.C., I got right into community theater.”

Kharfen became a regular at the Silver Spring Stage, the Reston Community Players and the Little Theater of Alexandria, all venerable performance troupes in the D.C. suburbs for more than a half century.

“When I first moved to D.C. I thought getting involved in local theater would be a good way to get to know people and make some new friends,” he said. “I did some pretty challenging roles down there and that’s the kind of role I seek out. Poirot spends the majority of the play trying to figure out who perpetrated the murder, so I do a lot of talking in this role but I love it. Getting the French accent right was another challenge, but that’s one of the things that attracted me to the role.”

Kharfen said that while he has never seen a stage production of “Murder on the Orient Express,” he has seen the movie version from 1974 with Albert Finney in the role of Inspector Poirot.

“That movie from the ’70’s is the version I enjoy most, and I never grow tired of watching it,” he said. “It’s the kind of story, even when you see it again and again and you know what happens, the journey is so engaging that you want to see it again.”

Christie’s work was first published as a book in 1934. This theatrical adaptation was written in 2017 by popular American playwright Ken Ludwig, the winner of three Tony Awards in 1989 for “Lend Me a Tenor.” Ludwig’s other works include “The Game’s Afoot” in 2011, “Moon Over Buffalo” in 1995 and “Crazy for You” in 1992.

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In “Murder on the Orient Express,” the story is set in 1934 on an elegant train carrying passengers from the Middle East back to London. Poirot, a famous detective, just happens to be on the train heading back home to London when one of the passengers is found stabbed to death in his cabin. Poirot is called upon to investigate the murder and finds eight fellow travelers to be possible suspects. The suspense increases when the train is stopped in its tracks at midnight due to a heavy snowstorm.

Joining Kharfen on the playhouse stage are Pat Brady, Scott Brown, Jason Biszick, Meigg Jupin, Robin Leary, Josephine O’Connor, Martin O’Connor, Drew Pearson, Erin Satterlee and Michael Schaefer.

For Kharfen, getting acquainted with the local theater community in Schenectady has been a pleasure.

“Everyone has been so gracious and supportive, and it’s a talented, terrific group of people,” said Kharfen. “They’ve all been very welcoming to someone who is completely new to them.”

“We feel so very fortunate to have him in the cast,” Loffredo said of Kharfen. “He is just as kind as he is talented. He is simply a delight to work with and we are all having so much fun. The entire cast and crew are top-notch, and I think audiences are in for a real treat.”

The Schenectady Civic Players are asking all audience members to wear a mask. They are no longer requiring proof of vaccination.

‘Murder on the Orient Express’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 20; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
MORE INFO: Visit or call (518) 382-2081

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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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