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The real tragedy in going into Montana State University Billings' production of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" is knowing how it ends.

But even for die-hard fans of Dame Christie's great murder mysteries, there's fun to be had in the Zach Carleton-directed performance.

Ten people are called to an island, all of them strangers except the butler and the cook, played by Erik Rasmussen and Bobbi Kaye Kupfner (Friday performances feature Lacee Jaskot in the role of Ethel Rogers), where they are accused of murder and picked off one by one in killings set to a nursery rhyme.

Unfortunately for those who have read Christie's masterpiece, you know from the second Brad Porter walks onstage as Anthony Marsten and steals the show that he's not long for this world.

Porter's got some competition, though, from other, less-seasoned actors: Cydney Mann, in only her second stage performance, portrays the perfect femme fatale in the cold-blooded Vera Claythorne, and her love interest (hey, even a murder mystery's got to have a little romance) Philip Lombard is played with a winning combination of smarminess and assurance by Michael Koppenhaver.

The rest of the cast is solid: Rasmussen and Kupfner as the bickering couple, Ryan Lofgren as the corrupt cop William Blore; Trevor Biondich as the elderly General MacKenzie; Amber Heit as the spinsterish, holier-than-thou Emily Brent; Philip A. Johnson as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, the judge; and Trent Steinbrink as Dr. Armstrong.

Sure, there's a little damage to the excellent set when some scenery gets chewed, but most of these youngsters give believable performances.

The same can't be said, unfortunately, for the bear that does in one of the characters.

A ridiculous prop had the unfortunate effect of lightening the mood just when things were at their tensest.

But if you can get past that - which was troublesome, even for the two actors left onstage after the killer teddy struck - the revised ending that Carleton promised (one that is true to Christie's original vision and not previous stage adaptations) is satisfying. As is seeing the corpse of poor dead whatsisname manhandled by the mastermind of the island's murders.

Combining the grotesque and the humorous: that was Christie's great talent. And the MSU Billings theater department rises to the task of matching her skill nicely.

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