BWW Review: THE MOUSETRAP Snaps at DreamWrights
Agatha Christie put THE MOUSETRAP on stage in 1952. It hasn't closed in London since then. Forget LES MISERABLES. Forget CATS. If you want theatrical staying power, this is the show. Not only is it still on stage in London but it's played everywhere else, from high schools to community theatres to summer stock to regional theatres, and people keep going to see it again. Inquiries by this author indicate that people who watch it don't mind going back partly because they really can't remember "whodunit" between productions. That's part of the show's charm - audiences are sworn to secrecy about the ending, it's been fairly well obeyed (don't expect to see the answer here), and all the characters are so plausible as the murderer at least at first blush that it's hard for anyone but a dyed in the wool mystery buff to keep the twists firmly in mind.
It's on stage at DreamWrights Center for Community Arts right now, directed by Timothy Stacey, who's got a handle on what makes a Christie murder mystery tick. One of the secrets? The set. The drawing room of Monkswell Manor is charmingly shabby - does it or doesn't it need a coat of paint? - and obviously drafty on a good day, but the blizzard conditions are nicely indicated by the set and props crew here. A Christie tale can't happen on a minimal set; that drawing room in which the action will take place here, or in SPIDER'S WEB, or in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE must lure you into not imagining, but seeing, the room and its doors and windows, and the inevitable fireplace. The set allows the audience the imaginary luxury of thinking that they can really follow what's happening. Ser designer Billy Ferrell, props coordinator Jessica Crowe, and Stacey give us a room fit for the murder we're sure will happen.
Christie plays usually demand a brave, plucky heroine, in this case Mollie Ralston, proprietor of Monkswell Manor guest house. Mollie, here played by Joy Sabatini, is the plucky heroine with an obvious secret. She's also got the lungs of a Hollywood scream queen, as the audience discovers at the end of the first act, but she's letting loose with good reason.
The rather alarming Christopher Wren, a young guest with his own secrets - everyone has secrets in Monkswell Manor - is played by Joseph Moussa with a vague air of schizophrenia, which Christopher certainly might have. If anyone there is clearly disturbed from the get-go, it's he, though he's not obnoxious - that distinction goes to Mrs. Boyle, played by Dixie Smith, a woman who can find fault with anything, most likely even God. And she's far from shy about letting you know everything that's wrong with everyone, particularly you.
The Woman of Mystery is Miss Casewell, played by Wilder Harrison O'Neill. She's lived abroad most of her life but won't say where; she's back on personal business she won't reveal. She's the opposite of the retired Major Metcalf (Kevin Allen), who's bluff, hearty, helpful, and... is it possible he doesn't have a secret? And then there's Rich Mehrenburg, as Mr. Paravicini, the Unexpected Guest. Did his car really overturn in the snow? What does he really do? Why is he wearing makeup? Mehrenburg takes Paravicini over the top where he belongs. Is he a murderer? A thief? Or is he just peculiar?
Quinton Laughman plays Mollie's husband, Giles, the sweet, quiet man with the completely unknown background and the clothing worn by a killer in London. Can he save Mollie, or anyone else, from their fate, or is he part of it? Thank goodness Detective Sergeant Trotter (Storey) is able to make it through the blizzard on a pair of skis that mysteriously vanish shortly after he arrives, leaving him with the inhabitants of Monkswell Manor and a corpse.
And someone humming "Three Blind Mice."
Storey's done an unconventional but interesting piece of casting with Miss Casewell by placing O'Neill in the role. His reasoning's sound, but perhaps adds an extra layer of complexity (and red herrings) to those unfamiliar with the show when they walk in. O'Neill does considerable justice to the part, but stronger costuming (and a little more foundation work with the costumes) is needed to make the overall effect slightly less distracting. Properly costumed, so that gender appears less red-herring in the second act, O'Neill could be absolutely remarkable in the role. It's an excellent idea, nearly properly executed.
It's Christie at her most twisted and sinister, and it's at DreamWrights through August 20. If you love a mystery, it's waiting for you. Visit dreamwrights.org for tickets and information.