Vista, CA—Agatha Christies “The Mousetrap” began as a radio play in 1947. In 1952 the play opened in the West End in London and never really closed. 25,000 performances later it’s made it’s way across the ocean, across the continent to Vista where the Avo Theatre, with director Jason Heil at the helm, is giving it an excellent outing. It’s murder mystery by the numbers, but more fun.
Christie, master of the whodunits, “Murder on the Orient Express”, “And Then There Were None”, “Witness for the Prosecution” and “The Unexpected Guest “ to name but a few in the long list of her credits has her formula for suspense down to a science. For most watching the various scenarios in any one of her plays, play out; we, or I spent countless moments throughout the evening working out a combination of endings that I think will solve the mystery. I like to think of myself as a super sleuth. Back to that later.
Give Heil, The Avo Playhouse and a terrific cast kudos for pulling off this nail biter (well?) in such fine fashion. The curtain goes up to show us a stylish country manner home (N. Dixon Fish) Monkswell Manor, set in the outskirts of London in the dead of the winter. The manor house is modestly furnished, upstairs, downstairs and cellar (which we don’t see), comfy living room with fireplace and bay windows laced with snow that open to the outside. Softly lit by Paul A. Canaletti, Jr. with Chris Luessmann’s sound design, it has the feel of a safe place to read a book, but looks are deceiving.
Mollie and Giles Ralston (Jessica John and Jonathan Sachs) have opened the manor, which was left to Mollie by a relative, as a guesthouse. On the radio in the living room, the news is blasting about a recent murder in London in a neighboring village. As the guests arrive at the manor one at a time, we get to see them and kind of appraise and judge, if you will, what they are like and what their standing will be in the scheme of things. Did any of them commit the murder and are now looking for a place to hide? All kinds of questions surface.
The first to arrive is the overly hyper Christopher Wren (Ethan Mikael Tapley) a young man with an annoyingly high-pitched cackle who claims to be named after a famous architect. Mrs. Boyle (Dagmar Krause Fields), a rather standoffish, proper and very critical elderly woman is the second to arrive. Major Metcalf (Walter Ritter), a charming retired officer is the third to join the already assembled group. I think he knows something but only time will tell.
The last two guests to arrive are Miss Casewell (Rachael Van Warmer) a twenty something young woman dressed in pants (odd for the times) but looking stunning in Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd’s post WWII era outfits and Mr. Paravicini (Phil Johnson), the mysterious guest whose car, he said, overturned in a snow bank. He had no luggage and has a decidedly heavy Italian accent. I think they all have something to hide.
Finally, Detective Sgt. Trotter (Jake Rosco) arrives on skis. The heavy snow has blocked all roads leading in and out of the village and passage by car is impossible. The reason for the detectives visit is to question the guests as to their whereabouts’ on the day of the murder and establish alibis. As soon as he arrives, the phones go dead! Something’s afoot!
We’ve been sworn to secrecy as to who did what to whom, and how it all ends but I can tell you that Mrs. Boyle is the first casualty of the evening. After that, my lips are sealed. And as to my mystery solving, I did not fare well. I suspected everyone at one time or another to be the killer as per Christie’s carefully laying the foundation for such conclusions (I think they are called red herrings) and director Heil letting it casually play out!
The good news is, is that the cast fared better than I. Jessica John and Jonathan Sachs play beautifully off each other as Mollie and Giles taking turns looking like real suspects based on information we learn, or don’t learn about them. Ethan and Rachael, the two young pups have much to hide and they do it well and the Major is very thoughtful. As every turn unturns he seems to be in the middle of things.
Van Wormer has really matured into the role as the mysterious woman to a tee. And as for Johnson’s Mr. Paravicini, well there is a mystery there, no doubt about it. And he plays it up to the hilt. Everyone in “The Mousetrap” is suspect and that’s exactly the way Christie plays it and the cast does it to perfection, without over doing it. It’s Mystery Theatre at its best and well worth the trip to Vista.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through Feb. 5th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Production
Production Type: Mystery
Where: 303 Main Street, Vista, CA 92084
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$30.00
Venue: Avo Playhouse