Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“The Mousetrap” in NoHo – Classic Mystery, No Real Surprises
Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap” has been on the stage, uninterrupted, in London’s West End since 1952, making it the longest-running play in the English language anywhere in the world. With that kind of longevity (66 years and counting), traditions and tales are inevitable. A favorite story, perhaps apocryphal, says that taxi drivers taking patrons to see “The Mousetrap” in London will reward stingy tippers by shouting out the murderer’s name as the playgoers exit the cab.
It is definitely true that Dame Agatha added a curtain speech at play’s end, requesting that the murderer in this mystery not be revealed to others by the audience when they leave. Thus, do not expect this critic, who has seen the London production more than once and sundry others closer to home, to defy tradition.
Now in an intimate production at Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood, “The Mousetrap” has survived so long because it has all the elements one expects from a classic British mystery of Christie’s period. In other words, there is more of puzzle than depth in the thing, but the puzzle provides satisfying twists and turns. There is a secluded mansion. There is a congregation of diverse elements of British society. There is weather-based upheaval which strands everyone there, at the same time that news on the radio speaks of the manhunt for a London murderer. And, as expected, the plot thickens.
At CCT, the best news is the performers, who range from good to excellent, put their hearts into making this whole thing convincing. Their British (or, in one case Italian) accents are passable, their admittedly stereotypical characters are played straight and with conviction, and the rising tensions prove appropriately palpable. Director Sonny Lara gets a bit carried away with background music, using it in place of whistling winds and such to help build suspense, but keeps the pacing tight and the atmosphere appropriately claustrophobic.
Megan Cochran and Bobby Slaski ground the piece as the young couple, the Ralstons, intent on turning an inherited country estate into a guest house: genuine and engaging. Among their guests, Hans Obma, as the socially awkward Chris Wren, struggles with a need to be somewhat unkempt which has him constantly smoothing his hair in a direction it definitely doesn’t want to take, creating a distraction which muddies focus at inappropriate moments. On the other hand, Mouchette van Helsdingen creates just the right amount of stuffy disproval in the snobbish Mrs. Boyle to create the obviously fractious mood needed to move the plot forward.
AJ Abrams provides the classic retired army officer as Major Metcalf, organized, logical and unflappable. As the “mannish” Miss Casewell, Annie Leiberman manages the unique character qualities without sacrificing a sense of genuine concern for the actions going on around her. Michael Mullen seems to have the most fun, playing the absurdly fake Italian, Mr. Paravicini to the hilt, from pancaked face to overly expressive gestures. Tavis L. Baker brings the expected sense of authority as Detective Sergeant Trotter, with growing nuance as the play rolls along.
The ensemble feel of this cast is strong, and somewhat belies the supposed predicability. The low budget set gets the job done, thanks in large part to the dressing given it by Joanne Lamb, while Mullen, aside from his onstage role, has given the characters costumes with an appropriate period feel, setting the play (listed initially as taking place in “the present”) in the time in which it was initially staged. However the impression is still stodgy, as director Sonny Lara’s overly calm pacing, and his weird addition of background music as if a play needs a constant sound track, lessen the tension and
Despite the twist ending, which was a true departure in its day, “The Mousetrap” is now seen as classic Christie. If you are looking for a satisfying, but not wildly taxing puzzle with the feel of an old friend, Crown City Theatre’s production is for you. It may not have the spit and polish of fancier stagings, but it is by and large well performed and a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two. And who doesn’t need a little unthreatening pleasantness these days?
What: “The Mousetrap” When: through April 29, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo Street in North Hollywood How Much: $20 Info: (818) 065-5685 or http://www.crowncitytheatre.com