The Mousetrap

Casting is a crucial element in the success of any production. It’s a crapshoot, and even more of a gamble in community theatre as the pool of actors is usually more limited.  Alyssa Bruno Walls, the director of the Theatre Factory’s production of Agatha Christies’ murder mystery, The Mousetrap, has hit the casting jackpot with this one.

The Mousetrap opened sixty-six years ago in London’s West End and has been running continuously since. The plot is rather straightforward, despite its twists and turns. Recently married Mollie Ralston (Kaitlin Baker) and her husband Giles (Logan Williams) have inherited Monkswell Manor and are opening it as a guest house, (the British equivalent of an inn). The young couple is in way over their heads as they have no experience in the hospitality industry. As their preparations for the guests near completion, the radio is on in the parlor with a BBC report of a murder in London.

As the guests begin to check in during a fierce snowstorm, the Ralston’s wonder who these people are and why did they come to the Manor during a snowstorm? The couple questions the wisdom of their decision to run a guest house.

The first guest to arrive at Monkswell is Christopher Wren (Beck Seamen), a very peculiar and hyperactive young man who claims to be an architect. Mollie takes an instant liking to him and offers him the room of his choice.

Next to arrive is Mrs. Boyle (Linda Stayer), a matronly older woman with a critical eye for detail who likes nothing she sees. She is so displeased of everything that the Ralston’s offer her the option to leave, which she declines.

Major Metcalf (Andy Nesky), retired Army, arrives at the same time as Boyle. The last reservation to show up is Miss Casewell (Marisa Postava), a strange and aloof woman who offhandedly mentions her grim childhood. An unexpected late arrival with a foreign accent, a wild beard, and makeup turns up. Mr. Paravicini (Bill Fisher) claims his car has overturned in a snowdrift and he needs a place to stay until the storm passes. He gets the last room.

Then the phone rings. It’s the police who are sending an officer out to the Manor as a precaution. They hint there may be a connection to the murder in London.  Detective Sergeant Trotter (Jeremy Kuharcik) arrives on skis and begins to question the proprietors and guests.

The fun of an Agatha Christie story is how she keeps you guessing “whodunnit.” By tradition, audiences are asked not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre, to ensure that the end of the play is not spoiled for future audiences. Rest assured, I’m not going to tell you!

Agatha Christie’s script gives each of the actors several moments to shine with their characters. Without a doubt, the star of this production is Theatre Factory veteran Jeremy Kuharcik as Sergeant Trotter. His acting chops and stage presence give him total command of the stage in each of his scenes. Linda Stayer portrayal of Mrs. Boyle is everyone’s grandmother with a bit of the Dowager Countess’ sense of entitlement. She is quite the hoot to watch. Bill Fisher is brilliant as Mr. Paravicini, the perfect balance of a flim-flam man with a bushy beard, and a blend of Jim Carey and Jack Nicholson expressions. In a cast filled with crazy characters, Andy Nesky’s Major Metcalf is the pipe smoking purveyor of sensibility and serenity.

Beck Seamen’s performance as the helpful but hopeless leering weirdo wannabe architect Christopher Wren reinforces the Ralston’s curosity about the background of their guests. Seaman is early in his acting career and is going to be one to watch in the future. Marisa Postava adds the right mix of mystery and “I might be nuts also” to Miss Casewell.

Kaitlin Baker and Logan Williams have perhaps the only “normal” characters in The Mousetrap, and normal is never that exciting for an actor or audience.  However, they do a nice job in their portrayal of the young couple.

Director Alyssa Bruno Walls has built a talented ensemble cast who work well together and play off each other. Each actor has their moment to shine with a balance between them. Accents have a British flair, and each is different enough to give a hint of class distinction and city of origin. Most remarkable is each actors’ consistency throughout their performance.

There are often many actors on stage at once, and Bruno Walls’ blocking keeps everyone visible while a lot of the essential critical business that goes on in the background is evident to the audience. Scenery often suffers from the constraints of community theatre budgets, here it is functional to the needs of the story but not reflective of an English manor house. The actor’s performances drew me into the story, and I found myself becoming engrossed in the fascinating characters portrayed on stage.

As I write this I have images in my head of Mr. Paravicini’s wicked grin, Wren’s lecherous smile and Mrs. Boyles look of contempt when she discovers the Ralston’s have no staff. I can smell Metcalf’s smoking pipe and laugh at  Casewell’s little dance to chase Mrs. Boyle out of the room (so she could have the best seat). Jeremy Kucharcik’s impeccable delivery and presence as Sergeant Trotter are memorable moments as well.

A London newspaper said of The Mousetrap in 2012 “It’s not great drama; it’s not even a great whodunit. However, it’s definitely an enjoyable time-tunnel into the lost genre of the country-house murder mystery.”  At the Theatre Factory, it’s also the opportunity to see some of our regions great acting and directing talent.

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is at the Theatre Factory in Trafford with performances October 12th to  23rd.  Tickets can be ordered by phone, email or at the box office, for details visit http://www.thetheatrefactory.org/tickets/

George Hoover got his start in theatre in Miami when his family ran the Coconut Grove Playhouse. His career encompasses a variety of work in both the design and technical side of motion pictures, live theatre, and television. George is a three-time Emmy Award winner, member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership Award winner, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Life Fellow, and most importantly a passionate theatre person and generally handy guy.

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