There Ain’t Nothin’ Like A Dame: THE MOUSETRAP

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Presented by Theatre@First
Written by Dame Agatha Christie
Directed by Michael Haddad

Feb. 27 – March 7, 2015
Unity Church
6 William Street
Somerville, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I have worked with Theatre@First as an actor and as a crew volunteer. It is my firm belief that only a narcissistic ass would allow something like that to color their review.

(Somerville, MA) If you can’t keep a secret, chances are that you’d make a terrible murderer but a great victim. Seymour R. Goff’s famous advert for Seagram Distillers Corporation cautioned that “loose lips might sink ships.” It was in use by 1942 by the US Office of War Information. Across the pond, British allies were told to “keep mum” lest their thoughtless chatter accidentally leak information to Nazi sympathisers. The wartime influenced Mousetrap (1952), was rewritten as a radio play called Three Blind Mice (1947) after originally being written as a short story, argues quite strongly for keeping personal, potentially damning information quiet. It makes a very strong case for background checks. As for the guests staying at Monkswell Manor, they likely would have survived unscathed had they checked references and kept their noses clean.

Mollie (Sarah Brinks) and Giles Ralston (Seth Hatfield), a bright, young English couple, have recently opened Monkswell Manor, a guesthouse outside of London. They are expecting four guests on a snowy, blustery night when the radio news reports that the suspect of the gruesome murder of Maureen Lyon is at large. The guests arrive one by one, each immediately revealing their eccentricities, with talk of the crime and the weather hot on their lips. Guests and hosts alike are anxious to wait out the storm until Detective Sergeant Trotter (Andrew Lebrun) unexpectedly arrives to reveal that the murderer is in the house. With several unexpected plot twists and quite a lot of laughter, we discover “who dun it” and why.

Dame Christie’s play is delightfully charming, funny, and well-written. Her’s is the kind of writing that makes an actor’s job easy. That being said, just because one hasn’t royally screwed the performance pooch, it doesn’t mean a performance will be an immediate hit. It still takes skill, amiability and timing. Fortunately, Theatre@First’s community production has plenty and some to spare.

The evening belonged to Brinks and Lebrun. Their portrayals in their respective roles were sincere and well crafted. They both had a contagious energy that the rest of the cast tended to lean and rely upon. We didn’t know who to trust but we did want to trust them. Their performances were a pleasure to watch.

Yet, because Brinks and Lebrun had such powerful energy and presence onstage, actors who were more staid in their performances could not keep up with them. In particular, Seth Hatfield’s more conservative performance was a stark contrast to Brinks’ high energy. He still gives a good performance but he could use an energy boost.

There is a lot of great character work in this production. The guests of Monkswell Manor aren’t all crazy but they aren’t all not crazy: Rob Noyes should likely needs some dental floss for all the scenery he chewed on Saturday evening as the flamboyant Mr. Paravicini. Renee Johnson deserves particular note as Mrs. Boyle. Johnson’s talents were so on point that her Mrs. Boyle was so prickly, so rude, so aggravatingly particular that we wanted her to die.

The production moves smoothly until the last moments of the production. The murderer has been apprehended, mysterious backgrounds revealed and calm restored when suddenly the performance comes to a clunky, abrupt end. Christie resolves things quickly with a near Gift of the Magi moment between Mollie and Giles but the transition is too fast for the audience. We don’t catch on that the show has ended until the lights go out.

The Mousetrap does employ some vintage humor (sexism, racism) but these jokes are few and mostly harmless.

If one enjoys mysteries, the work of Dame Christie and seriocomedies, The Mousetrap will likely please. If one enjoyed the movie Clue or other similar period comedies, this production will be right up your alley. If one enjoys watching English middleclassmen squirm, this is also the production for you. The writing is great, the cast and crew deliver. There is little reason not to enjoy Theatre@First’s The Mousetrap.

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