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'Mousetrap' has twists and turns, but needs a tweak

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

The Agatha Christie murder mystery The Mousetrap has it all: quirky characters, clever dialogue and a good plot with lots of twists and turns.

All it takes is a good cast and director, and you have a grand evening's entertainment, especially for those who love a challenging whodunit.

The Stage West Community Playhouse version playing Thursdays and weekends through Jan. 27 comes close, and it can get there with some tightening and a quicker tempo. Director Bob Reece's cast was, for the most part, well chosen, well coached and well prepared.

Outstanding are Harvey Laskey and Nicole LeBlanc as Mollie and Giles Ralston, the 1950s-era keepers of a small bed-and-breakfast, Monkswell Manor, 30 miles outside London.

Laskey, a member of the Screen Actors Guild with 20 years of stage experience, has a brisk and credible air filled with energy and interest. His Giles seems straight out of a British countryside inn. Libby Campo and Terry Marwood's makeup and Ruth Osborne's stodgy, 1950s English wardrobing go far to give young Ms. LeBlanc the look of maturity her role demands, though some grey streaks in the hair and a pair of lisle hose would accentuate the frumpy look a harried bed-and-breakfast lady would probably have.

In The Mousetrap, the Ralstons have chosen the worst possible week to have a grand opening, the height of a winter snowstorm, a time made more real by soundman Roy Baker's whistling winds and Paul Schlobohm's moody lighting. The five guests are a motley crew. There's the fey Christopher Wren, played with tousle-haired insouciance by Stage West newcomer Daniel Feloa, a promising young actor. Then there's the bossy and demanding Mrs. Boyle, a former magistrate, made unforgettable by award-winning actor Lillian Falcone.

Joining the bunch at the inn are Major Metcalf (Michael Jeffrey, Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show), a retired, but not retiring officer; Miss Casewell (Connie Chataway), a manipulative young lady of mysterious background; and Mr. Paravicini (George Friel), an expansive Italian who is an accidental guest because, he tells the group, his Rolls-Royce has turned over in the snow and he had no place else to go. All three make their characters distinctive and lively.

All are settling in for a cold winter's night when a telephone call comes advising that there has been a murder in London and that the police suspect the killer is headed toward Monkswell Manor to strike yet again. Within moments, Detective Sergeant Trotter (W. Paul Wade) arrives on snow skis and begins to grill the guests in hopes of finding the murderer before another death takes place.

As in all Agatha Christie mysteries, everyone looks suspicious, even the hosts. The audience can pick up clues -- and they seem to be everywhere -- but the eventual culprit still comes as a surprise. The players have their characters and their movements well in hand, but some had moments of hesitation on opening night that let the action flag at key points.

Director Reece would also do the audience and his players a favor by shifting the sofa and chair to a natural angle so that the actors can play crucial scenes in front of the large furniture and closer to the audience and not behind the massive couch and intrusive lamp.

This was especially bothersome in the scene with Molly and Christopher, which makes obvious how much Molly cares for the young people visiting her inn and makes subsequent revelations about her past even more poignant. Behind the sofa, that intimacy and much of its meaning gets lost.

That said, at just over two hours, The Mousetrap is a classic that seems to get better with time.

If you go

The Mousetrap, a murder mystery in two acts, at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill, through Jan. 27. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14. Call (352) 683-5113.

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