The butler did it! Now, if only there were a butler character in this wildly thrilling murder mystery. Hold onto your pipes, detectives, because Vagabond Players are starting up the second half of their 97th season with a high-adrenaline- pumping whodunit by presenting Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Eight people snowed in at the Monkswell Manor Guest House when a murder sets the mystery into manic motion. The truth is shrouded by lies and secrets, with a trail of suspects piling higher and higher as you race toward the terrifying twist of an ending. This classic thriller is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Director Eric C. Stein really sets the stage with a throw-back to yesteryore; the quaint British guest manor, the variation on English accents as the guests arrive, and the antiquated feeling of just about everything else. Stein places the mood’s emphasis on visual and audio cues; the old radio that telecasts the murder in London town that ties into the madness at the manor. All the pieces fitting together like a puzzle to build a dramatic stage on which Christie’s nightmarish story to unfurls.
Crafting the feeling of the authentic British countryside came down to the accents. And Stein succeeded in ensuring that everyone in his cast took a unique approach; Molly and Giles sounding proper with a slight hint of country slang in their speech patterns, Casewell having a slightly crass and more cockney sound to her approach. The accents fit near perfection which really allowed the audience to be drawn into the drama on the stage, rather than worrying about who was slipping in and out of tongue.
The casting was sensational; each person cast fitting the roles of their character with immaculate perfection. Stein’s keen sense of which characters adapted to comedy verses the more dramatic was displayed perfectly in this production. Taking the riskier road of playing up the comedic elements of the play, Stein really worked a miracle in keeping the show lively. Christie’s murder mystery, while enthralling doesn’t really take off until you’re building the climax near the end, but the audience never faced a moment of doldrums with Stein’s more eccentric approach to the piece.
The characters play well off one another. The chemistry is organic and you often forget you’re watching a play staged for the sake of staging. Molly (Ann Turiano) with her perfectly crisp British accent and slightly nervous disposition is a perfect foil to the more irritable and slightly brash Giles (Eric C. Stein). They pair off as a young wed couple who grow highly suspicious of one another as the play progresses. Turiano’s emotional breakdown late in act II is nothing short of frightening as she erupts in accusatory hysterics, losing complete control on stage. And Stein’s outburst is similarly short of frightening but in a different manner; with Turiano you fear she may jump off the deep end but with Stein you fear he has gone over the cliff and is now a man possessed, his wide maniacal eyes showcasing the terrifying rage within.
Mrs. Boyle (Nona Porter) is the token old woman. Arriving with Major Metcalf (David Morey) she’s the proverbial fly in the ointment right from the start. Playing every bit into the stereotype of haughty and arrogant, Porter exudes an annoyance that makes the audience almost pleased when she’s the first to go. The manner of her constant complaining and fussing is irksome, like nails on a chalk board; helping accelerate her role in the production, which is naturally to spark motive amongst them all as she was so highly irritable.
Enter the stranger; Mr. Paravacini (Richard McGraw) whose antics are only matched by that of Christopher Wren (Brian M. Kehoe). McGraw plays the enigmatic mystery man who arrives unannounced looking highly suspicious. Kehoe plays the young eccentric nutter who’s gone round the twist one time too many. Although the pair rarely share stage time, each draws the attention in their direction whenever they are in the scene in their own highly amusing and unique fashion.
McGraw adapts a muddled foreign accent, perhaps Russian or Italian or somewhere in-between, enhancing his shadowy presence. His physical expressions are beyond hilarious; the way he slinks about the stage, appearing and disappearing with ease like a snake, despite being so tall and rather gangly. He’s loony in a laughable fashion, reminiscent almost of a Gomez Addams type character, the charming romancer who is a few cards short of a full deck. His shenanigans tend more toward the dark side but he’s thoroughly enjoyable and vies for title of show stealer against Kehoe quite vehemently.
Kehoe, while years younger than the mystery man character, shows a great deal of skill in his portrayal of the pleasantly psychotic little architect. His crazy in-your-face eagerness is spastically explosive (to the point of unintentional scenic destruction) and translates into zany in the brain-y faster than you can imagine. Flopping over furniture, sliding across the stage and all around physically invested, Kehoe is a maddening delight to watch perform, especially in the second act. He’s a treasure trove of uproarious moments and he’s got the comedy cat in his bag; a show stealing thundercat if ever there was one.
As for Casewell (April Rejman) and Detective Trotter (Adam Bloedorn) – they tie up all the loose ends quite nicely. Rejman is slightly aloof in her portrayal of the woman from abroad, letting a slight shroud of intrigue hang around her character like a fog. Bloedorn is large and in charge from the moment he skis past the window, arriving in the blizzard. Together they share a climactic scene— that for spoiler reasons cannot be discussed— that will simply blow your mind with the vocal and emotional energy that they each blast into it.
A truly unique spin on a Christie classic, The Mousetrap is one case that will keep you laughing as it keeps you on the edge of your seat; spiraling toward that dramatic conclusion.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap plays through February 3, 2012 at Vagabond Players – 806 S. Broadway, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets,call the box office at (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.