BWW Reviews: You've Never Seen Such a Sight In Your Life as The Vagabond Players' THE MOUSETRAP
I went through a fairly intense Agatha Christie phase before I hit double digits. I read her mysteries rabidly, watched all the old movies and even, thanks to a mother who was happy to feed both my whodunit and theater-going habits, saw The Mousetrap in London's West End at the ripe old age of 10. I even remember the Laura Ashley dress I wore to the show. I did not, however, remember the ending, which made for a blissfully ignorant repeat performance on my part as I sat in the audience at The Vagabond Players for its rendition of one of Dame Christie's finest.
First, I've waxed poetic about Vags' set design in the past, and true to form, this set was spot on in both its attention to pre-1950s detail (suit of armor, Tiffany lamp, paisley brocade loveseat with wooden feet and a snowy window through which one can just make out the snow-covered evergreens beyond) and its consciousness of the space in which the action takes place. And there's a lot of action, given the ensemble cast of eight, all of whom are nearly constantly on stage.
They're also a remarkably even cast, all performing with the confidence of being entirely comfortable with their roles and with each other. It's mentioned not a few times what an assortment of odd characters they are, and with that come large personalities. The actors handle the quirks of their roles with aplomb, delighting in the absurdities that Christie assigned to them and truly fulfilling their hyperbole.
Mrs. Boyle (Nona Porter) is perfectly irritatingly critical and sniffy; Christopher Wren (Brian M. Kehoe in a standout performance) is fantastically manic in his flamboyant, often inappropriate way, but he also manages to mix in a docile tenderness; Mr. Paravacini (Richard McGraw) is deliciously sinister and enigmatic, even if his foreign accent wavers a bit, fading in and out. Accents can often be the Achilles' heel of a performance, but this cast does a good job across the board with their mixed British affectations that, in contrast to those done poorly, do not once distract.
As a murder mystery, conducted by the superbly loping and ineffective Detective Sergeant Trotter (Adam Bloedorn), unfolds at Monkswell Manor Guest House in the midst of a particularly nasty English blizzard (meaning no one gets in or out), insanity and hilarity ensue in a well-balanced blend that has helped to make The Mousetrap the longest continuously running show ever, having hit its 25,000th performance late last year in London. Multiple characters continually ask young proprietors Molly and Giles Ralston, "Just how much do you know about these people staying in your guesthouse?" and it quickly becomes evident that the answer is "not enough" when the group halfheartedly, at the bidding of the detective sergeant, works to unravel who among them may have murderous tendencies.
Kudos to director and actor Eric C. Stein, who portrays Giles Ralston, for wrangling a production that requires critical timing and fluidity in both a complicated script and physical action. The actors move on and off stage nearly constantly, utilizing both doors and the window, and it all comes off as wonderfully natural. The production is a delightful two-plus-hour distraction from life beyond the theater as we involve ourselves in what happens when a stay at an English countryside guesthouse turns deadly. See how they run!
The Mousetrap runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 3 at The Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway in Baltimore. Its next production, The Cemetery Club, opens Feb. 22. For more information, visit www.vagabondplayers.org.
Photo by Tom Lauer, courtesy of The Vagabond Players.