Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
In The Mousetrap, Dame Agatha cast the mold for a breed of murder mystery. A group of people, preferably not well acquainted, have gathered together in an isolated or sequestered setting when a murder is committed or discovered, perhaps multiple murders. Out of thin air, it seems, a detective appears to interview those present (any one of whom could have committed the murder), collect clues, and by application of astute observation and uncanny logic, solve the case.
Set in 1952–the year it first played on stage–The Mousetrap conveys some of the privation of life in post World War II England. It takes place in a large house recently inherited by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston, who converted it into a guest home. Mollie and Giles are about to welcome their first four lodgers. First to arrive is a high-strung and eccentric young man, Christopher Wren–so named by his parents in hope he would, like his celebrated namesake, become an architect. Next is Mrs. Doyle, a cranky older woman who cannot find a single nice to say about anything. Major Metcalf, a retired British army officer who served in India, arrives with his pleasant disposition intact. The fourth guest is Miss Casewell, described in play notes as a "manly" woman who speaks in terse and cryptic sentences but seems likely to pose no trouble.
Snow is falling hard and it looks like the group will be snowbound together. Into this cluster comes an unexpected guest, Mr. Paravinci, seeking shelter after his car flipped over in the snow down the road. Paravinci speaks with an indeterminate, forced sounding accent–his name sounds Italian, but the gentleman gives no clue as to his homeland–and has a manner that could be considered sinister. One final visitor manages to reach Monkswell Manor through the blizzard that evening: Detective Sargent Trotter from the local police, there to warn the others they have good reason to believe a murder will soon take place on those premises. The die is cast for an evening of delicious suspense.
I won't reveal more than that, and you certainly wouldn't want me to, other than to say Christie displayed her extravagant skill at setting up a mysterious premise and arranging matters so that every possible outcome, at some course in the two-hour running time, seems plausible. Having not seen the play in a very long time, I was grateful that my lapsed memory allowed me to take part in the pleasure of trying to work out the identities of victims and murderers before the big reveal.
And that is what The Mousetrap has to offer. Nothing more, but not a whiff less. If you enjoy that kind of sport, as I do, it is up there at the top of the class, and Lyric Arts has done an excellent job of bringing it once more to life. Director Craig Johnson has the pacing, with exits and entrances in rapid succession, down pat and sets the tone of a hornet's nest of danger infecting a serene country retreat. The atmospheric set designed by Greg Vanselow is charmingly detailed, while lighting (Shannon Elliot) and sound (Christy C. Johnson) design splendidly add qualities of mystery to the proceedings. Samantha Fromm Haddow has dressed the lot in period-appropriate garb that also reflects on the distinctive personalities of each character.
Isabella Dunseith and Nick Furlong are terrific as Mollie and Giles Ralston, married just one year, assuring us from the start of the love that burns between them before assuredly revealing the possibility of each suspecting the other of the worst, convincing us that all things are possible in this intrigue. Andrew Newman gamely portrays Christopher Wren, exhibiting an effete manner and forced gaiety that hints at a wounded spirit within, his brash laughter suggesting a cry for help. Miriam Monasch is a delight as misanthropic Mrs. Boyle, making the mere utterance of a "hmmph!" into a laugh line.
David Coral, as Major Metcalf, shows the requisite steady nerves and perspective of a gent who has spent his life in the disciplined British military, while Rachel Postle establishes a sense of inner turmoil beneath Miss Casewell's aloof, near bitter, demeanor. Sebastian Grim imbues young Detective Sergeant Trotter with an observant eye and quick mind, along with an admirable resolve to succeed even when the others make light of his dire warnings. Only Raúl Arámbula, as Mr. Paravinci, seems off key. Arámbula was terrific in the lead of It's a Wonderful Life earlier this season at Lyric Arts, but here he pushes his character over the edge, past eccentric and unsettling to outright demented in a way that distracts from, rather than contributes to, the mystery at the heart of the play.
When all is said and done, and the villain revealed, The Mousetrap is great entertainment, racking up another strong win for Lyric Arts. For any for whom the drive to Anoka seems a bit much, rest assured that you will be glad to have plenty of time on the ride home to revisit with your companions the missed clues, sure signs, and your hunches about the outcome, be they right or wrong, and to give credit to Agatha Christie, second to none at crafting a rip-roaring mystery.
The Mousetrap runs through March 20, 2022, at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, 420 East Main Street, Anoka MN. Tickets from $29.00 - $37.00; seniors (60+) and students with ID: $27.00 - $35.00; For information and tickets call 763-422-1838 or visit lyricarts.org.
Playwright: Agatha Christie ; Director: Craig Johnson; Scenic Design: Greg Vanselow; Costume Design: Samantha Fromm Haddow; Lighting Design: Shannon Elliott; Sound Design: Christy C. Johnson; Props Design: Madeline Achen; Dialect Consultant: Keely Wolter; Stage Manager: Joe Black; Assistant Stage Manager: Zachariah Kunshier.
Cast: Raúl Arámbula (Mr. Paravinci), David Coral (Major Metcalf), Isabella Dunseith (Mollie Ralston), Nick Furlong (Giles Ralston), Sebastian Grim (Detective Sergeant Trotter), Miriam Monasch (Mrs. Boyle), Andrew Newman (Christopher Wren), Rachel Postle (Miss Casewell).