Not only has someone set an elaborate trap to kill three people who had once wronged them, but Tarrant Actors Regional Theatre gives the audience at their production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap the added mystery of trying to find out where the characters’ accents keep disappearing to.
Mollie (Katreeva Philips) and Giles Ralston (Andrew Manning) have bought a house in the country outside of London and opened it as a lodging house. On opening day, the guests arrive one after the other amid a heavy snowstorm. The first arrival is Christopher Wren (Tyler Martinelli), who is only a young architect named after the more famous architect. Second is the pretentious Mrs. Boyle (Virginia Dunlap-Celentano). Then Major Metcalf (Delmar H. Doubler), and finally Miss Casewell (Karen Matheny) arrive to make a full house.
Abuzz over a murder in London, the guests have a chance to flesh out their characters a little, before being interrupted by Mr. Paravacini (Bryan S. Douglas), an Italian man whose Rolls Royse has turned over in a snow drift. An attempt to phone the police brings the surprise arrival of Detective Sergeant Trotter (Keith LaCour), setting the stage for the mystery to unfold when one of the guests is suddenly and mysteriously murdered.
Christie was the master of the murder mystery and The Mousetrap is arguably her most famous work. That said, a deluge of murder mysteries since Christie’s time—many of them using her as inspiration if not outright copying—has led to the genre feeling watered down and, aside from who actually committed the crime, predictable.
In this production, TART delivers a solidly mediocre performance. The aforementioned issues with accents, which would just disappear and reappear randomly, then float in and out of different British dialects, is a small quibble—but a quibble that is telling as to the level of the performance.
Alex Krus is kind of a one-man band behind the scenes. He directs, serves as scenic designer and master carpenter and designs the sound and the costumes. Essentially, lighting design and running the tech boards are about the only tasks he doesn’t take on.
Look, the set is fine. The costumes are fine, save for Paravacini’s excruciatingly fake nose. The sound is fine. But perhaps Krus was so busy doing all of these other things that he forgot to actually direct his actors.
The accents are bad, but there are other issues. Mainly, they need to be reeled in. Murder mysteries lean heavily into the territory of melodrama, but that doesn’t mean they have to be performed as such. Martinelli and Douglas are the two main culprits here. It’s not that they aren’t good in their roles—Douglas somehow has the most consistent accent—but that they are large characters who could cast a shadow on a whole scene with their antics. Whether it’s Wren jumping between furniture and generally looking like he’s on some sort of upper, or Douglas with his constant mugging, both prove adept at drawing focus away from the action.
Phillips is the star, and appropriately, the strongest performer. She also has the most consistent accent of the British characters. Manning and LaCour fall out of their accents so much that they might as well have dropped the pretense all together and played the roles as American expats.
All of the above is based on individual characters quibbles, but there is also a general lack of chemistry among the cast that leads to some choppy pacing. In a murder mystery, pacing is perhaps is one of the most important elements. It plays a big part in raising tension. But this cast constantly drags scenes to a crawl by letting each line land before starting the next, and sometimes getting too caught up in their action to be on point with delivery.
The actors need much more direction. There is talent there to be mined and developed, but it doesn’t happen here. They rely on what they know and it gets them as far as a mildly underwhelming performance of an overproduced classic. Just like the killer in the play, they ultimately miss their target.