Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2008
I highly recommend the charming little production of The Mousetrap currently running at The Theater Barn. Director Tony Capone skillfully guides a talented cast through and around Abe Phelps’ evocative set as Agatha Christie’s script fills the stage with more floppin’ fresh Red Herrings than you would have thought possible. Heck, even the fake British accents aren’t too painful! If, like me, you have managed never to see this show for the past 56 years, it has aged exceedingly well and is still an entertaining whodunit with well-drawn characters and an intriguing plot. And if you have seen it, this is a strong production well worth your while.
Since its opening in London’s West End on October 6, 1952, The Mousetrap has become the longest running show of any kind, in the world, with 23,000 performances to date. So it is no wonder that it was chosen as an audience pick for The Theater Barn’s 25th anniversary season this year. The Barn always stages a thriller/murder mystery of some kind as its third show, and this is the fourth time “The Mousetrap” has filled the slot.
I understand that it is explicitly forbidden to reveal the identity of the murderer, although over the course of the past half century or so the secret HAS leaked out, but you won’t learn it from me. All you need to know is that this is an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Seven people are snowed in at Monkswell Manor, the home Giles (Joseph Dal Porto) and Mollie (Amanda McCallum) Ralston have just opened as a guest house: Foppish young architect Christopher Wren (Ellis J. Wells), solid, retired military man Major Metcalf (John Trainor), sporty and eccentric Miss Casewell (Megan Rozak), fussy old Mrs. Boyle (Carol Charniga), and the unexpected guest, the mysterious foreigner Mr. Prarvicini (Aaron S. Holbritter). Detective Sergeant Trotter (James Stover) arrives and announces that someone in the company is responsible for a recent London murder, which in turn is linked to the long-ago murder of one of three foster children by a local farm couple. As the plot devolves everyone begins to look suspicious, including the Ralstons themselves. In order to find out “whodunnit” you’ll just have to buy a ticket!
Capone has cast this show beautifully. McCallum is very appealing as the young, impulsive, and naïve Mollie. You understand why Giles is jealous of every other man because this young woman is a charmer – pretty but not off-puttingly so, nurturing, funny, smart. Dal Porto plays Giles very straight and solid, allowing just a hint of a smoldering core of potential anger at the right moments.
Equally appealing is Wells sensitive portrayal of the miserably insecure Christopher Wren. Is he gay or straight? Is he sane or insane? Is he really an architect-in-training named Christopher Wren? And what IS he doing with Mollie in the kitchen?
Holbritter is extravagantly unctuous as Paravicini. He is capable of the best room-filling macabre laugh I’ve ever heard. I loved the slick and shiny purple satin vest and twinkly diamond ear stud that costume designer Michelle Blanchard has given him.
I am a big fan of Megan Rozak, especially when she is singing and dancing, which she isn’t here, but she is slightly miscast in this role which was clearly intended for a horsey, British Miss Jane Hathaway type. Rozak is petite and curvy, and when Giles remarks that he is not sure whether Miss Casewell is really female, it is a pretty laughable line. If Giles can’t discern the obvious assets of the woman he’s just met, he’s blind. Blanchard’s ensemble for Rozak could have tried harder to hide her curves, but it would have failed.
Stover flubbed a few lines which gave him the appearance of being a less experienced performer than the rest of the gifted cast. Perhaps he was trying to convey Trotter’s understandable nerves in the situation, but to me he looked genuinely nervous himself and not like someone playing a nervous character.
Carol Charniga is all British fuss and bother as Mrs. Boyle, who promptly gets on everybody’s nerves with her complaints and demands. And just when I thought John Trainor had gotten to play something other than a detective...
For all I know Abe and Joan Phelps actually live on the set of The Mousetrap and just cart it into the theatre when needed. It looks that cozy and convincing. I was immediately transported from New Lebanon on a warm July evening to Monkswell Manor, 30 miles outside of London in Berkshire (remember, they pronounce it "Barkshire"), on a cold and snowy December day. The walls are painted a cozy burgundy, and the fireplace stage right boasts one of those fabulous Phelps faux finishes on its “marble” pillars. So the backdrop behind the window is a little “stagey.” We know there’s not really acres of snow-covered British countryside behind The Theater Barn anyway.
Allen Phelps’ lighting works well to convey the time of day and of year, as well as convincing you that the rooms are lit individually, as they are in real life, rather than with a corporate wash of stage light. Needless to say, the murderer plunges the stage into total darkness before offing the victim, an effect that is also handled well.
I mentioned Blanchard’s effective costumes earlier on and they really are very attractive and flattering to the different shapes and sizes of actors she has to clothe. I loved McCallum’s sensible but flirty tweed skirt, and Wells’ gently flamboyant ensembles. But can someone please tell me WHY he is always carrying a colored feather? Was this some vital clue I failed to understand, or another of Christie’s red herrings, or just someone’s idea of a sly theatrical joke? Hmmmm...
the Mousetrap runs through July 20 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and ten minutes with one intermission and is suitable for everyone old enough to enjoy a well written murder mystery (a "dead" body" is briefly seen but the murder is committed in the dark.) Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008