Monday, October 24, 2022

Review of "The Mousetrap" - Hartford Stage

I’m a huge mystery fan and Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors of the genre.  In her best novels, she weaves together elaborately laden plots with a host of eccentric characters.  Her 1952 play, The Mousetrap, is the longest running show in theater history, still being performed today in London’s West End.  

Hartford Stage has chosen this venerable war horse to kick off their 2022 - 2023 season in what proves to be an unsatisfying and, in some ways, mystifying production.

The plot has a classic Christie setting.  Four guests and a stranger arrive in a blizzard to the guest house of Mollie and Giles Ralston.  We quickly learn a London murder is connected to their aged country establishment, Monkswell Manor.  Soon, the local constabulatory is on the scene and murder is afoot.  Let me stop here as not to inadvertently disclose any of the whodunnit’s clues and revelations..

The cast of The Mousetrap. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The main problem with
The Mousetrap is the play itself.  This is second tier Agatha Christie with almost no twists and turns..  She employs a nursery rhyme - Three Blind Mice - as a device to add a color to the story.  Christie is noted for incorporating children’s tunes in her novels.  The best known is Ten Little Indians (known also as And Then There Were None).  But, here, the introduction and usage of the sing-song refrain is rather pedestrian. 

The characters, for the most part, are uninteresting and many of them are perplexingly portrayed.  There has always been humor in Christie’s books, but Director Jackson Gay goes for broad laughs and elevated idiosyncrasies, making the young Christopher Wren (Christopher Geary) an overwrought twit and the mysterious Mr. Paravicini (Jason O’Connell) an inflated clown. The two female guests, Mrs. Boyle (Yvette Ganier) and Miss Casewell (Ali Skamangas) are bland and tiresome.  Major Metcalf (Greg Stuhr) is the archetype British army officer, which means he huffs and puffs and pontificates about nothing.  Detective Sergeant Trotter (Brendan Dalton) seems to be yelling all his lines.  Only the young couple, Mollie (Sam Morales) and Giles Ralston (Tobias Segal), come across as attractive and engaging portrayals.

Christoper Geary and Sam Morales (front) and Tobias Segal (back).  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The use of incidental music is not really required and proves to be more of a distraction.  Director Jackson Gay does a skillful utilizing the whole theater for the cast’s entrances of exits.  It opens up the production and, at times, feels like the cast is in the middle of a game of Clue - Mrs. Boyle in the Drawing Room, Major Metcalf in the library and such.

The real star of the show is Riw Rakkulchon’s Scenic Design.  Coupled with Krista Smith’s atmospheric lighting, they have gorgeously recreated an estate’s spacious Great Hall, The richly detailed interior includes a wall of animal skulls and another boasting an impressive array of large knives and swords.  Floor to ceiling windows at the back of the set, situated behind heavy drapery, opens to a view of a snowy landscape.  The peis de resistance is a large chandelier hovering ominously above the stage.

Sam Morales.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The Mousetrap
, playing at Hartford Stage through November 6.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.

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