The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. Directed by Tony Capone
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Someone you know and love never could be a stranger."
John Trainor, Joseph Dal Porto, Amanda McCallum in The Moustrap; photo provided
How could a simple murder mystery play run in London for 56 unbroken years? How could more than 6 million theatergoers buy tickets for a simple murder mystery play? How could more than 200 actors play on stage in London in roles so old and in a play where the mystery is no longer mysterious? And honestly. . .how could Theater Barn audience choose this same murder mystery play out of all the mysteries that have been done there in years past for this request season? Simple. Itís the best of the best, so how could they not.
The new production of the Theater Barnís favorite play is selling out, as it should. Itís a well-mounted, finely directed and neatly played performance. There is an excellent cast of players, each bringing quirky sensibilities to their roles which aptly suit their characters. Abe Phelps and Michael Marotta have made the set lovely, liveable and with six entrances including the window from "Night Must Fall" - another British murder mystery, that time by Emlyn Williams - just enough farcical possibilities to make the question of "whodunit" fun to contemplate.
If you havenít seen this play, ever, then get down to New Lebanon quickly and buy a ticket. There are surprises galore for you. If you have seen it, rush out anyway, because it may be a while before it gets back on the local boards again. And the final moments of the play, the revelations of the killer, and in Christieís usual manner, the equally odd revelations about other characters in the play, are amazingly clever. Christie knew that everyone possesses at least one big secret and the fun in her work is discovering not just those secrets but how they are revealed (HINT: Not by me!)
The play is set in a country bed and breakfast just opening for business. Mollie and Giles Ralston are keeping secrets from one another as they prepare to greet their first guests, four people who have booked separately but who seem to form a peculiarly phobic society. They are joined by an unanticipated guest, a stranger with a foreign accent and no car - he claims it overturned down the road. Later another guest, arriving on skis, joins the crowd. The difference between him and the others is a simple one: heís a police detective seeking the killer of a woman in another historic home not far away. The killer, he tells the assembled throng, is one of them.
In short order there is a second murder and things begin to heat up when it is revealed that a third victim is anticipated, the third of the "three blind mice" a tune that has been heard on the radio, on the piano and hummed in the darkness already. Terrific possibilities abound here as each member of the household, snowed in by a sudden blizzard, begins to suspect the others.
The Ralstons are nicely played here by Amanda McCallum and Joseph Dal Porto. He was a bit on the quiet side, hard to hear at times. His English accent was the least successful in this troupe, but his acting, when you could finally hear it, was wonderful. He has a knack for doing melodrama with subtlety, not an easy task. She is delightful, all brisk British business. Her accent, like her walk, is crisp and precise but very natural. Her scene with the killer is chilling.
Detective Sergeant Trotter is played by James Stover and he also knows how to pull off the accent and the action. He is a clever actor with a charming manner. The other uninvited guest is Mr. Paravicini played with gusto by Aaron S. Holbritter. You might think he is the murderer. I wonít tell you in this report if he is or if he is not. Iíll only tell you that he kills in this role.
The guests are a fascinating quartet. Carol Charigna is Mrs. Boyle, a nasty old woman whose glaring eyes could probably shoot deadly darts if sheíd let them. If thereís someone in this show to hate, it is Charignaís Mrs. Boyle. She reveals not one pleasant bone in her body. Megan Rozak is the aggressively butch Miss Casewell. Authoritative, commanding and dangerous, Rozak creates this character in the mode of the matronly characters in the best British film comedies of this period. Itís a wonderful choice.
John Trainor is dapper, lightweight and thoroughly confusing as Major Metcalf. Ellis J. Wells is the odd-duck Christopher Wren, a man who has altered his name and changed his identity. As the ideal suspect, he does the best job of the bunch. Nothing about him rings true, but like Mrs. Ralston we find ourselves sympathizing with Christopher.
Capone has done a perfectly wonderful job shoveling this show out of its past and into the present. He seems to like the present. He makes us a present of the play.
Costumes by Michelle Blanchard fit these characters like a missing glove containing a ticket to a London bus. The lighting, even in mid-day with the ceiling strip of sunlight intruding on the proceedings, made the mystery into just what it needed to be. It was designed by Allen Phelps.
If you can get a ticket, get it. If you canít, start the write-in campaign for an extra week of this show at the end of the season. Christie knew what she was doing when she wrote this little hit and 56 years later itís still making that point - loud and clear.
The Mousetrap runs at the Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York through July 20. Tickets are affordable so call the box office at 518-794-8989 and get yours now.