Review: The Mousetrap @ TKD

For more than 65 years Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has been delighting London audiences, making it by far the longest continuously running show in history. It's a classic (perhaps the classic) whodunit murder mystery; complete with a cast of colorful and shady hotel guests, a terrible storm, screams in the dark, and a policeman who must 'get to the bottom of it before the killer strikes again!' With Theatre Knoxville Downtown's presentation, Knoxville audiences are invited to gather the clues and try to solve the classic mystery themselves.

The plot of this old chestnut stays firmly in the realm of the familiar. Newly married Mollie and Giles Ralston are opening their brand new bed and breakfast in the English countryside, but a terrible snowstorm is blowing in just as their guests begin to arrive. There has been a murder in London to the south, but the killer was only vaguely identified. After getting everyone settled (and after the unexpected arrival of a final guest) the Ralstons are startled to learn that the local chief of police is sending over a Sergeant to ask some questions in relation to the murder. When the Sergeant arrives everyone gives dubious answers, withholds information, suspects one another, and makes accusations until the murderer is finally revealed to be --CENSORED--.

Lydia Weeks makes a strong debut on the TKD stage in the role of Mollie Ralston, especially capitalizing on a several moments of unexpectedly heightened tension in the second act that give her a moment to display her dramatic chops. But something about Mollie’s story doesn’t add up! Weeks is well paired with TKD veteran David Snow (Giles Ralston) who provides a surefooted and reliable anchor for the production as the dutiful and protective husband. But there’s no denying Giles was wearing the same outfit as the murderer! Casey Cain a UT senior explodes onto the stage with manic energy in the role of Christopher Wren. Cain swings for the fences in every scene and manages to maintain his character’s trademark giddy exuberance throughout. But wouldn’t the murder be really enjoying themselves? Knoxville theatre and screen fixture Steven Trigg offers solid support in the role of Major Metcalf. Trigg is a pro who knows how to share the scene, and he does an admirable amount of detailed character work while watching and listening to his scene partners. But wouldn’t the murderer mostly keep his mouth shut? Sandy Failing, marks her TKD debut as Mrs. Boyle. Failing is well cast as the highly critical and exacting battleaxe, and her abuse of the Ralstons and the other guests is fun to watch. But Mrs. Boyle definitely knows more than she should! TKD board member Courtney Woolard makes some very effective character choices as Ms. Casewell in a role that falls outside the actress' typical fare, but which she executes admirably. Yet Casewell’s past is more than a little suspicious! Lee Wittenberg delights as the mysterious Mr. Paravicini. Wittenberg’s classic comedic timing and technique serve to make his performance the most entertaining of the evening. But Paravicini himself admits his circumstances are highly suspect! Rounding out the ensemble is Adam Crandall as Sergeant Trotter who arrives at first to question and then protect the hotel guests. Crandall’s effective presentation as the crisp and hard-boiled officer is clearly crafted, though he spends most of his stage time taking notes and gathering information about the other characters.

Like any classic murder mystery, the fun lies in the actors’ larger than life characterizations (all of which I found entertaining) and trying to solve the case before the end of the play (which I could not). Director Rebecca Gomez does a fine job keeping the sightlines clear and the stage traffic flowing (no small feat when the whole ensemble appears on stage together.) Her set design for the show is a believable and well rendered Monkswell Manor, complete with several nice details that serve to heighten the mood. I do believe that the show’s pacing could be improved a bit. The first half of act one is a delightful parade of new faces and characters, but things slow down with the arrival of the Sergeant as he begins his interrogations, and some actors attempt to infuse additional drama with over-long pauses. A solid clip returns at the top of act two, but once again begins to sag mostly under the weight imposed by the script’s call for a great deal of backstory, though it does pick back up again during the big reveal.

The Mousetrap is a bit of fun classic theatre, and the full house on Saturday night made their enjoyment known. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries you don’t want to miss a chance to see this seminal work in the genre. And if you’re looking for a fun night out playing sleuth with your friends, be sure to get your tickets in advance because the show is already sold out through opening weekend.     

The Mousetrap runs through October 29. Tickets and information can be found here.

 

JP Schuffman is a theatre critic and the Managing Artistic Director of the Knoxville Theatre Club which produces professional theatre, provides training to local artists, and provides resources for the whole Knoxville community.