At Halloween, nothing is quite as it seems. The same principle holds true in the world of Agatha Christie, the famous—infamous?—British crime writer. When Christie spins a tale, husbands can’t be trusted, wives weave lies, and that charming houseguest just might be a murderer.
|Sgt. Trotter (Christian Pederson) arrives at Monkswell Manor in Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre summons Christie’s spirit for its 2015-16 season opener Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap, onstage through November 8. Set in an English country manor in the mid-twentieth century, The Mousetrap centers around Mr. and Mrs. Ralston and their burgeoning guesthouse business. The young couple welcomes their first group of tenants—the oddball Christopher Wren, the snooty Mrs. Boyle, the quiet Major Metcalf, the androgynous Miss Casewell, and the unexpected Mr. Paravicini—in the middle of a snowstorm, and the plot quickly snowballs when a young sergeant arrives to investigate a murder.
The Mousetrap is the longest running play in history, having run consistently since its premiere in 1952. Despite this longevity, audiences continue to be memorized and stunned by the quick-witted humor and surprise twist. At the onset of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s production, Producing Artistic Director Andrew Kato urges the audience to respect Agatha Christie’s wishes and “do not reveal the identity of the murderer.” If you’ve seen the play before, heed this advice and maintain the mystery for the newbies. If you haven’t seen the play before, you’re in for one thrilling night at the theater.
|Sgt. Trotter (Christian Pedersen) discusses possible suspects with Mollie Ralston (Katherine Amadeo) in Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
As always, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre wows in both technical design and acting. Scenic designer Michael Schweikardt spearheads a talented team that has brought Monkswell Manor to life with exquisite detail and attention to era accuracy. Weather plays a key role in this play, and the scenic artists do an amazing job of keeping the snow an ever-present character and gently transitioning the household through the stages of a storm. When the lights rise on Act I, snow falls just outside the stained-glass windows. As guests enter the home, they shake flakes from their collars—a great detail from costume designer Tracy Dorman—and gusts of wind follow behind them. Heat is an issue at Monkswell Manor and a frigid ambiance permeates the entire set thanks to smart light design by Thomas Hase. Every subtle detail augments the play’s realism and creates the perfect playground for this masterful cast.
|Mrs. Boyle (Barbara Bradshaw) talks with Miss Casewell (Gail Rastorfer) in Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap. Photo by Alicia Donelan|
Each member of this ensemble cast contributes to the success of the production as a whole. As Mollie Ralston, Katherine Amadeo exudes sincerity, making her transition toward nerve-wracking suspicion all the more palpable. Eric Parks portrays her husband, Giles, with a calculated vagueness that allows the audience to project their own suspicions onto him. Richard Iverson makes a grand entrance as Christopher Wren, the peculiar young visitor who adores Mrs. Ralston, loves to cook, and flits about the home with nervous energy. His presence and appearance are reminiscent of a young Eric Idle—a trait that definitely works to his advantage. Barbara Bradshaw makes her time onstage as the cantankerous Mrs. Bradshaw count; every nit-picky line is delivered with venom and an air of ineptitude, signaling a broken person. Mrs. Boyle enters along with Major Metcalf, who is played with reserve by Barry Tarallo. Miss Casewell, played by Gail Rastorfer, follows soon after. Rastorfer brings a quiet strength to the character and sporadically comes out of her shell to joke with Mr. Wren and tease Mrs. Boyle. A fifth and final houseguest, Mr. Paravicini, shows up unexpectedly and puts everyone on edge. As Mr. Paravicini, Roland Rusinek is a hilarious caricature of a verbose mischief-maker, rolling his ‘R’s and teasing his fellow guests with glee.
Everything changes when Sgt. Trotter, played by Christian Pedersen, arrives. A woman has been murdered in London, and Sgt. Trotter has reason to believe the murderer will strike again at Monkswell Manor. What insanity ensues upon his arrival? You’ll have to attend to find out.