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Reviews

 

You'll get caught up in 'Mousetrap'
by Pat Craig ----CCTiimes
10/25/2007

Whodunit? I ain't tellin'. Besides, you don't really want to know. A huge part of the fun in these classic thrillers is trying to figure out the murderer yourself. And since Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" is the heavyweight champ of whodunits, still on a London run that started in 1952, it would be cruel to reveal anything but the most basic information. Besides, Center Repertory Company's all-stops-out production of "Mousetrap," which opened Tuesday night, is such a delight, you really ought to see it and let the charmingly complex and convoluted murder mystery unfold before your eyes. What you might discover is that you don't care so much about who murdered Mrs. Boyle, and are more interested in how the whole thing is done. Since the show is more than a half-century old, and has made multi-millions for the Christie estate, you could look at the piece as a fine classic automobile. Christie's script and the characters she created are so much a part of another era that the piece has a real time-warp feel to it. There have been more clever plays, more stunning special effects, more outrageous red herrings, but "Mousetrap" still stands out like a Pierce-Arrow in a garage full of Chevy Cobalts. And the production by Center Rep is flat-out outstanding -- direction, acting, sets, costumes and lighting, the play is first-rate all the way. The story is basic Christie. An English couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston (Mark Anderson Phillips and Carrie Paff), have just opened an inn in a big old house. Naturally, it is a dark and stormy night as the guests begin to arrive. There's Christopher Wren (Mark Farrell), the fey architect, named, he says, for the famous Christopher Wren; the stuffy Major Metcalf (James Carpenter), who arrives with the grouchy Mrs. Boyle; Miss Casewell (Cassie Beck), the brusque young woman who wears men's suits; and Mr. Paravicini (Michael Butler), the mysteriously silly man from the continent. The final character is Detective Sergeant Trotter (Craig Marker), who browbeats and bullies his way toward solving the crime. The play is a breathtaking wild ride through the old house and across the personalities of the characters, who all have at least one reason to be a murderer. Of course, none of the piece and bits hold up to close examination, which has director Timothy Near (artistic director of San Jose Rep and wife of Butler, who is the artistic director of Center Rep) keeping the cast moving at a breakneck pace. Lights by Kurt Landisman and costumes by Elizabeth Poindexter give the play a stylish appearance as it unfolds across the wonderful set created by Kelly Tighe. But what is most effective about the show is the way the cast appears to be having the time of its life putting on the personalities of these late-'40s characters, all of whom appear to be escapees from a J. Arthur Rank back lot.


 

A Better Mousetrap: Strong cast to enliven the usual suspects
by Sam Hurwitt East Bay Express
October 24, 2007

Oh, they're crafty ones out there at the Lesher Center. Resident theater company Center REPertory Company is presenting Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, whose 55-year-and-still-going run on London's West End is easily the longest run of any play on record. (Sorry, Beach Blanket Babylon. Suck it, Cats.) This drawing-room murder-mystery chestnut is the kind of show that's going to attract audiences no matter what the critics may say, never mind that Christie's brand of whodunit isn't a matter of artful misdirection so much as flat-out cheating, and her red herrings don't make any sense in terms of plot or character but exist only to screw with the viewer. None of that makes a lick of difference. But seemingly not content with hooking the Rossmoor crowd right off the bat, Center REP has rounded up a terrific cast to attract theater cognoscenti as well.

In a production directed by his wife Timothy Near, outgoing artistic director of San Jose Rep, company artistic director Michael Butler joins James Carpenter, Cassie Beck, Mark Farrell, Craig Marker, Carrie Paff, Kerri Shawn, and Mark Anderson Phillips in the pool of suspects who may get bumped off or possibly do the bumping — who can say? And if you happen to know, don't spoil the surprise so that a new generation of viewers can gasp and say, "Seriously?! Oh, come on!" Consider it a rite of passage, or at the very least a hazing ritual.


The Mousetrap: -- Compelling Fun!; Great Tips Start Here: Buzzin Tells All!
by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave
Oct. 26‚ 2007

A Train Departs in the creative, mesmerizing opening of ‘Mousetrap’ at the Dean Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek. With puffs of smoke and Train noises – you know right away that you are in for a gripping journey into Agatha Christie land.

The stunning opening even made the man next to me jump when the sound of the Train Whistle let out its steam whistle. You have to be there to really get the real import of this enthralling experience. And, I do urge to see to see it.

The Mousetrap is a legend in the world of Theatre. It has been running for 50 years – surely a world record. It is a mystery – so this review can’t reveal everything. Even, if I am tempted to tell you the whole plot – I won’t. In fact, at the end of the play the actor who plays the policeman thanks everyone for coming to the Grand Opening. Then, he said: “And I would like to say a few words to the ‘Press’ in the audience. Please do not tell who the Murderer is in your reviews. And, if you do….” Then he hums a few bars from “Three Blind Mice”, the song that we hear before each murder. Was this a veiled threat? You bet…and I could’ve swore that he was looking right at me. I’m not taking any chances. You’ll never get the ending from me.

Mousetrap is a stereotypical thriller with its mix of suspicion, intrigue and some really funny comedy. The characters are vivid. Along the way, if you listen closely you will find plenty of false clues to keep you guessing. And, I am guessing that the character who portends to be an Italian may not be Italian because at times he slips back into sounding like a proper Englishman. In this who-dun-it -- surprise it’s not The Butler -- there isn’t one. Mollie and Giles Ralston, own an old family home that they have decided to turn into a guesthouse. Four people have made reservations to stay at the guesthouse, each one of them very eccentric. Plus, there is an unexpected guest, who blows through the door with the snow behind him. He says that his car overturned in the storm. Right after that, a detective shows up that had called earlier looking for a murderer. How did he get there in the Snow Storm? Why, on skis of course.

With everyone trying to keep warm – it doesn’t take very long before a murder takes place in front of the fireplace. The skiing detective gets all the guests, along with the owners together and begins to interrogate them. This is where you must pay particular attention to every detail to try to figure out which one of them is the murderer – and why. They all seem so nice, in a demented sort of way. But someone in this house is indeed a murderer. There is the crazy guest who gaily flits from room to room. He is a major suspect, but may be throwing us off with his penchant for cooking. Then there’s the older complaining woman, who could be the person, but she is the first one to get strangled. So, that kinda puts her out the picture, wouldn’t you say? I mean, after-all – she is dead, isn’t she? There is a quite, but mysterious Major who looks too kind to kill anyone. But, isn’t it always the one that you never suspect? For a while you might put your bet on the Miss Caswell, who dresses like a man and rather walks like one. And it’s not even Halloween. To round out the suspects, we have the owners Mr. & Mrs. Ralston and the madcap Paravicini who wears makeup and moves around like a much younger man than he looks. Could this disguise mean that he is a murderer? What would Helena Rubenstein think? I doubt that she would endorse makeup for murderers.


 

TALK'IN BROADWAY
by Richard Connema

A Smart Production of The Mousetrap

Center REPertory Company of Walnut Creek has resurrected the old warhorse, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, with a brilliant cast of Bay Area favorites. Ms. Christie's murder mystery is known for having the longest run of any play in the world with 22800 performances as of August 2007 in the West End of London. Throughout its 55-year run, the actors and actresses who have appeared in the London production number 350, with 187 understudies. The Mousetrap is the classic "whodunit" murder thriller. This is the quintessential English murder mystery and great fun.

I first saw this thriller in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre in London with Richard Attenborough as Sergeant Trotter, and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. Whenever I was in London through the years I made a habit of revisiting the Monkswell Manor set in the Ambassador Theatre. Only one original cast member survived all of the cast changes since the original opening night: the late Deryck Guyler can still be heard via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day.

Agatha Christie's melodrama is full of silly coincidences that are fun to watch. There are false clues and some excellent melodramatic acting in this production.

The Mousetrap takes place during a heavy snowstorm at Monkswell Manor in Surrey. Mollie and Giles Ralston (Carrie Paff and Mark Anderson Phillips) have started up a new hotel in the converted manor. They are snowed in with four guests: the overly fey, hyperactive Christopher Wren (Mark Farrell); the oh, so very British Major Metcalf (James Carpenter); the mysterious Miss Casewell (Cassie Beck); and the wet blanket ex-judge Mrs. Boyle (Kerri Shawn). A mystifying stranger with a middle European accent, Paravicini (Michael Butler), soon joins them. Detective Sergeant Trotter (Craig Marker) arrives on skis to inform the group that he believes a murderer is on his way to the hotel, following the death of a Miss Maureen Lyon in London. From there on, it becomes a cat and mouse game among the guests. Most have something in common that is not disclosed until the end of the two-act drama.

The Mousetrap's complete cast is entrancing, and they interact wonderfully with each other with ghoulish amusement. The stylized acting is reminiscent of those 60-minute Edgar Wallace British film mysteries that were so popular in the 1940s and '50s in Britain. Craig Marker gives a topnotch performance as Sergeant Trotter. Mark Anderson Phillips is excellent, with a spot-on British accent as Giles Ralston. Carrie Paff gives a consummate performance as his wife Mollie. Both performances are straight out of a '50s J. Arthur Rank mystery film. Mark Farrell almost steals the show with his manically energetic acting (I was half expecting him to say the stereotype cliché, "tennis anyone?"). He has the strangest bouffant haircut that you are likely to see on any stage. James Carpenter gives a genuine performance as the quiet English Major Metcalf with very few words. Cassie Beck is exceptional as the aloof Miss Casewell. Kerri Shawn gives a brash performance as the irritable ex-Judge, Mrs. Boyle. Michael Butler, who is the artistic director of Center REPertory Company, is splendid as the mysterious middle European Paravicini, who occasionally slips into a Cockney accent.

Kelly Tighe has designed a wonderful detailed set of the living room of a large manor. It reeks of mystery as the play progresses. Chris Houston's sound and Kurt Landisman's lighting are superb. Elizabeth Poindexter's costumes are authentic late '40s outfits. Brava to Dawn-Elin Fraser for giving each actor and actress a marvelous English accent. Timothy Near has directed a taut melodrama mystery that should please the audience.