The next production of the Santa Paula Theater Center will be Agatha Christie’s Poirot-flavored Black Coffee, opening Friday and running through Aug. 14.

The play is directed by Fred Helsel, with sets by Mike Carnahan, lighting by Gary Richardson and costumes by Barbara Pedziwiatr.

The cast includes Todd Andrew Ball, Andrea Robles, Morgan Bozarth, Leslie Nichols, Erin Hollander, Isaac Deakyne, Elixeo Flores, Peter Krause, Jerry Nehring, Ronald Rezac, Keith High, Doug Frielander, Nelson Fox and Suzi Skutley.

Although several of Christie’s stories had been successfully dramatized by other authors by 1930, Black Coffee was the first play she actually wrote herself. It enjoyed modest success, substantial enough to encourage her to go on writing plays, along with her popular novels and stories (she is a bestselling writer, with 4 billion of her volumes sold, in 103 languages).

In all, Christie wrote 22 plays, including 17 for the live theater, four for radio and one for television. Her 1952 drama The Mousetrap has been her most successful — indeed, the most successful play of modern times, having run continuously since it opened in the West End in 1952, a total, so far, of more than 24,000 performances.

In Black Coffee, Christie’s most popular detective, the diminutive Belgian dandy Hercule Poirot, and his Watson-like sidekick, Capt. Hastings, are summoned by scientist Sir Claud Amory to help him preserve and ship out his newly discovered formula, which will be decisive in helping Britain win the (inevitable) next war. Before Poirot and Hastings reach Sir Amory’s country estate, the scientist has been murdered and his formula stolen. The unlikely duo then set out to bring the murderer(s) to justice while protecting the good-natured, innocent members of the household from embarrassment.

Black Coffee plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, students and military, and $12 children, and can be obtained from the Santa Paula Theater Center, at 125 S. Seventh St. in Santa Paula, by phone at 805.525.4645, or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at