Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The Mousetrap"

The Mousetrap
Agatha Christie

The Cast of "The Mousetrap"
For as much as any one of us decries the awful acts of gun violence we hear about on a near-daily basis, who among us does not like a juicy, suspenseful murder mystery?  And who is better to tell such a tale than the master herself, Agatha Christie, the most-published novelist in history and the playwright with the world’s longest, continuously running play.  With over 25,000 performances in London alone and thousands more on stages around the entire globe since premiering in 1952, The Mousetrap now arrives at Shotgun Players to end in magnificent fashion its 25th season, one that has featured only women playwrights. 

And what a production Shotgun has created!  Walking into the theatre, we are greeted by the cozy entry room of a countryside English inn, Monkswell Manor, with its angled corners and tall windows, figured wall paper, roaring fireplace, roller desk, and comfy looking furniture.  Outside of Mark Hueske’s high-ceiling set, we can see a blowing snowstorm and trees drooping with flakes’ weight -- all made more realistic by his excellent lighting design.  Throughout the play, Mark Stines contributes realistic sounds of storms, radio music and news of the 50s, and even the choking last gasps of a murder victim or two.  Patrick Dooley directs this whodunit with split-second-timed accuracy of slamming doors, surprise twists and turns, and cold-nosed guests who arrive bundled in assorted coats and muffs and in 1950s Saturday Evening Post dress, so deliciously costumed by Valera Coble.  Speaking in various English and European dialects as ably coached by Lizzie Calogero, a fine cast of quirky characters completes this picture-perfect setting for a mystery that grabs attention from the opening sounds of a London murder to the final moments of a surprise revelation of the culprit’s identity.

Mollie and Giles, newly weds of one year, are the novice owners of this antique inn (recently inherited from her aunt) with its cold drafts, banging steam pipes, and multi-storied nooks and crannies.  Megan Trout is the smartly attired, blonde hostess who nervously and excitedly scurries about on this, their opening day in the middle of a huge, English blizzard.  Her curly-haired, sometimes scowling husband -- who dutifully shovels snow and chops kindling while still in his tweed coat, tie, and smart-looking sweater – is played by Nick Medina.  Both Ms. Trout and Mr. Medina are always convincing and sometimes comical in their striving efforts for perfection as new innkeepers and in their naiveté of just what they have gotten themselves into.

And who could ever be quite prepared for the array of snow-dusted, shivering guests about to plop through their doorway, all idiosyncratically peculiar in just the way Agatha Christie can create such characters?  Blasting in full of questions, with chubby and dimpled cheeks, and with a devilish penchant for dramatics (all the time hinting rather loudly of his preference for good-looking men) is Christopher Wren, hilariously portrayed by Nick Medina.  He immediately chums up with Mollie (dashing to the kitchen to help with dinner); raises the suspicions of jealous husband Giles; and compares the terrible weather to “Dickens, Scrooge, and that terrible Tiny Tim.”  Following Wren are the white-haired, matronly Mrs. Boyles (crankily and pompously portrayed by Trish Mulholland) and the jovial, backslapping Major Metcalf (the pipe-smoking David Sinaiko).  The rather masculine, reserved, twenty-something Miss Casewell (Karen Offereins) arrives with a curiously small suitcase and no desire to answer any questions about her background or hometown.  Right on time in a Christie story, an unexpected guest with no luggage tumbles in (“My Rolls Royce is stuck in a snow field”).  Alex Rodriguez is Mr. Paravicini, a highly excitable, talkative Italian with an overly affected, lilting voice; annoying and cackling laugh; and a propensity for ending his words with exaggerated consonants. 

But before the anticipated murder of one of these seven occupants can occur, one more character on the evening’s playbill is to pop in.  Appearing suddenly in the front window is a young, handsome Detective Sergeant Turner (Adam Magill).  He has come to warn the occupants that the play’s opening, murdered soul we heard but did not see die in a London street may be the first of a trio of demises and that the next victim or victims might well be at this fated inn.  The connection has something to do with a nearby farm where three foster children were abused some twenty years before and with this inn’s address being on the murdered victim in London.  In the midst of the young-faced detective’s questioning of all the occupants and at a moment we, he, or the victim least expect, all lights go out; and what we in the audience have all been waiting for, occurs.

Down goes a new victim; and the Sergeant’s investigation gains new priorities as it soon becomes clear to all that somewhere in the house is the murderer and that someone else may yet be the intended, third victim.  We will soon learn from him that “You all had opportunity ... Each and every one were alone (at the time of the new murder).”  His interrogations lead him to conclude, “I almost think you are all guilty by the looks of you.”  All this builds to a surprise conclusion that has for sixty-plus years of The Mousetrap history been kept quite secret.  The script has never been published in a book, and despite tens of thousands of audience members, all departing audiences have been dutifully sworn to secrecy, having been fully entertained by a rippingly good page-turner they got to watch rather than read.

Shotgun Players has outdone itself in this picture-perfect rendition of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.  No more proof of that was needed for this reviewer than the broad smiles of the departing, buzzing-with-delight audience.

Rating: 5 E’s

The Mousetrap continues in an extended run through January 17, 2016 at Shotgun Player’s main stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley.  Tickets are available at https://shotgunplayers.org/.

Photo by Pak Han.

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