note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Mollie Ralston … Lisa Morse
Giles Ralston … Robert Antonelli
Christopher Wren … Tasso Feldman
Mrs. Boyle … Paula Plum
Major Metcalf … Dafydd Rees
Miss Casewell … Whitney Cohen
Paravicini … Richard Snee
Detective Sergeant Trotter … Lewis Wheeler
Summer hasn’t officially arrived but its theatre season has marvelously begun with Stoneham Theatre’s production of Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSETRAP which opened in London in 1952 and is still going strong over fifty years, later; the Stoneham production expires after a few weeks so you’d best order your tickets at once for when word gets out that it is currently the most entertaining show in the Boston area, every sensible man, woman and child may come a-clamoring. To those of you who are not dialing, by now --- (781) 279-2200 --- read on, at your own risk.
“Agatha Christie”. Say those magic words and whatever Ms. Christie may offer you --- be it on the page, the stage or on screens, large or small --- you become a round-eyed child delighted with her ingenious wind-up plots; just when you are congratulating yourself on prematurely solving her mysteries, she will soon have you off and running in a new direction. Ms. Christie never swerved from her formula: she took the Victorian penny-dreadfuls with its sleuths and murderers, set it among the English gentry between the two world wars and stirred in psychological insights for lethal motivations --- even when new, THE MOUSETRAP was reassuringly old-fashioned: a young married couple has converted an old manor house into a bed-and-breakfast establishment. They open their doors just as a blizzard is in progress; the guests arrive with all their peculiarities and various pasts. The snow piles up and seals off the characters from the outside world, the telephones stop working, and a young policeman arrives on skis to announce that a serial murder has been committed in the neighborhood and that its killer is now amongst them….but I mustn’t go on for fear of giving away too much. Suffice it to say that THE MOUSETRAP’s cleverness, heavily dependent upon Old Comedy coincidences, justifies its evergreen popularity; should you return for a second helping (and this thriller is, indeed, addictive), you’ll want to bring along others to have them squirm in turn while you gain insights into what you had previously overlooked. (I guessed the correct murderer before intermission but Ms. Christie, drat her, soon had me doubting my hunch.)
Adam Zahler directs with the right touch of barnstorming and tongue-in-cheek so that you are ever poised between laughter and nail biting and he has beautifully shaped his actors into eight interlocking pieces of the Christie puzzle. Thus, Lisa Morse and Robert Antonelli are properly bland as the nice, supposedly normal couple; Lewis Wheeler, evolving nicely, takes the stage as the boyish sleuth who is as much the evening’s playwright as Ms. Christie is when it comes to piecing together the goings-on; Tasso Feldman and Whitney Cohen are respectively flamboyant and guarded as two of the guests; Dafydd Rees, who may soon be in regular demand as a soft-spoken character actor, brings just the right touch of pipe-and-sweater to a slow-thinking major; and even though Paula Plum is back in drawing room mode and Richard Snee trots out his all-purpose foreign accent, they are plum-perfect here as the evening’s bitch and the reddest of herrings. Laurels to them, all!
Jenna McFarland has designed the detailed, dank-looking manor setting --- when the characters complain of unheated rooms, you believe them; Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s costumes are subtly in period without calling undue attention to themselves (though Ms. Morse’s frizzy hairstyle --- the same she sported for the recent TOOTH & CLAW --- is far too anachronistic, and Ms. Cohen’s bob is right out of the Jazz Age), and if Karen Perlow’s lighting consists of lamps being switched on and off, when Death arrives, it enters in the blackest, inkiest of nights. Steve McIntosh’s cozy radio-montages are enchanting, evoking the outside world which can only be reclaimed after the murder has been solved and the snow begins to melt.
Should you miss out on seeing THE MOUSETRAP --- and don’t blame me for reading these scribbles when you should have been dialing for tickets --- there is always SHEAR MADNESS, America’s own longest-running play, which sends up the mystery genre and has its audience selecting the murderer, with unpredictable results. Should you see both shows, you can witness how the latter has long been paying hilarious homage to the former.