It is not easy to do a play that has such a long history of productions all over the world.
In fact, it is quite risky to take something so established and loved by generations and fans of the infamous Agatha Christie and make it work for a new audience. However, Crown City Theatre's production did exactly that. Their version of this thrilling mystery, "The Mousetrap," has succeeded in bringing new life into this 66-year-old classic. It is a fresh, yet remarkably vintage-style homage to the original first seen in 1952. Written by perhaps the most famous novelist in the mystery genre of the last 100 years, this interpretation is ‘spot on’ as they say in the English language.
The stage opens on an English-style sitting room of the late 1940s. A young couple, the Ralstons, opens their bed and breakfast to five unknown strangers during a snowstorm. Located just 30 miles from London, we discover a murderer or two in the midst. The audience is not quite sure why a recent murder in London is tied into Monkswell Manor, but as the story progresses, we see the connection. An odd, youngish man calling himself Christopher Wren arrives first. He is quirky, socially inept and is too obvious to be the real killer. Dame Christie was not that obvious in her tales. Next to arrive are Mrs. Boyle and Major Metcalf. They had been forced by the weather to share a taxi from the train station and she is quite disagreeable. Mrs. Boyle immediately begins to criticize the manor and the Ralstons inexperience, lack of servants and cold rooms. We wonder why she chose this place if it doesn’t live up to her expectations.
Next we are introduced to Miss Casewell, a very strange person to visit this old home. She is dressed manly and is intent on aggravating Mrs. Boyle every moment they are alone. Suddenly, an unexpected additional person arrives to join the group of ill-fitted houseguests. It is an elderly foreign gentleman, Mr. Paravicini. He was trapped in a snowdrift and realized that he needed to bed down for the evening. Monkswell Manor was the closest retreat in the dreadful snow. Young and naïve, Mrs. Ralston can hardly say no. Now the scene is set and the manor is complete with characters reminiscent of a long-ago day and time. Ripe with hidden secrets and false identities, the murder games begin.
Fans of Agatha Christie will not be shocked or surprised at all the plot turns and twist. They are her mark for creating intrigue and deliciously animated characters. This play started out as a radio play in 1947 called "Three Blind Mice." Among the houseguests of Monkswell Manor, it is not easy to guess which person will be killed or why. It is definitely not obvious even in a roomful of uneasy patrons with motive and secrets. Perhaps the sweetness and hospitality of the young hostess reveals more than we know? Perhaps the sly detective already knows the killer or killers? In fact, after a while, everyone looks guilty. Soon enough we are privy to all their secrets and very surprised in the end with this whodunit.
Now let’s talk about the wonderful actors in this production.
The young woman who portrayed Mollie Ralston, Meghan Cochran, sported a believable and wonderful English accent. The subtlety in her portrayal of a weak and secretive young wife made it very real. Her mannerism and honesty in this role made one believe that she could be a young woman at this time period. It is a very authentic performance. In addition, the woman portraying Mrs. Boyle, Mouchette van Helsdingen, as the uptight, upper-class solicitor, was remarkable. Everyone has met this person. Reveling in her heightened position, she is a cold and distant woman who has little concern for lower class problems. Ms. van Helsdingen is exact, steadfast and very, very believable. It is not surprising that she has a strong history of respectable productions all over the world. Honorable mention goes to the actor Tavis L. Baker as Detective Sergeant Trotter. Strong and convincing in his role, I would like to see him in another production to verify his versatility. I believe he has it. To be clear, everyone did a very good job, and the set design was perfect for this period. Director Sonny Lira knew how to move everyone around the stage with fluidity to avoid stagnation. A special note to artistic directors Gary Lamb and William A. Reilly who highlighted the period with the details necessary to set the tone for the dated time period.
When productions challenge established and overly reviewed work, it is always difficult to judge what is different and what is new about this particular one. In this case, Crown City Theatre has found a way. Despite having been done so many times before with unparalleled success, it is this show that felt fresh and engaging. Once again, this ensemble of actors is above the fray and it is worthwhile to experience this production. It doesn’t really matter how many times one sees a show or experiences theater, it is always a new take, a new angle, and a new energy that makes the process worthwhile.
Fans of Agatha Christie or not, come and join a great cast for a wonderful time.
"The Mousetrap" playing at the Crown City Theater, 11031 Camarillo St, North Hollywood 91602
March 23rd to April 29th, 2018. Call for tickets 818 605 5685 or www.crowncitytheater.com
Fridays and Saturday at 8PM and Sundays 3PM
Review by Gerie Rhosen