Agatha Christie's whodunit The Mousetrap is among my favorites in the genre, mostly due to the humor the author wrote into it, as well as the clues she included that make it possible to actually discern who did do it. Although the murderer's identity still comes as something of a shock, the game of figuring out the killer remains fun. I just wish the District Theatre's current production of the piece were as enjoyable.
Unfortunately, director Deb Shippy's staging of Christie's mystery is almost humorless, and without a sense of comicality, this story of guests staying at the newly opened Monkswell Manor with a killer - and killer snowstorm - on the loose is a dull affair. Almost all of the actors here play their characters merely as written, rather than fleshing them out and adding nuance. Mrs. Boyle, for example, is arguably the character most likely to elicit laughter, and Patti Flaherty plays this overly critical, impossible-to-please guest, appropriately, as a snobby, rich bitch. Yet while Flaherty's snooty delivery garnered laughs from Friday's audience, I know the actor is capable of a richer, funnier performance; she seems to be held back within a rather witless staging of Christie's play.
Like Flaherty, many of the other actors appear to have latched onto only one or two of their character attributes rather than layering them with more. Kat Martin, for instance, chose earnestness and consternation for her Mollie, one half of the married couple that runs Monkswell Manor, while Aaron Lord went with angry and possessive as Mollie's husband Giles. As The Mousetrap progresses, we discover that Mollie is running from her past, but as played, she's incapable of keeping up appearances as a friendly proprietor, too overcome with a distraught heart. There's no sense of intelligence or business savvy here, even though it's explained that Mollie was smart enough to used mismatched furniture in the dining room because, although it looks amiss, it would accommodate guests better than would a complete set. While Martin's Mollie seems emotionally incapable of running a bed-and-breakfast, Lord's Giles seems to have no interest whatsoever in doing so, and the pair also lacks married-couple chemistry; they come across as people living together without the ability to choose otherwise, which makes Giles' jealousy seem unfounded. Without depth of character and few positive emotions, I found little reason to connect with these two, and wondered why anyone would want to stay in their manor.
Molly McLaughlin plays the well-traveled guest Miss Casewell as too obviously butch. With her legs, while sitting, spread as wide as they could possibly be, an emphasized swagger in her walk, and her deep-voiced deliveries, McLaughlin apparently doesn't want any audience member to miss her character's masculinity, which would be impossible given her lack of subtlety. (This Miss Casewell is a caricature rather than an intelligent, well-rounded, mannish woman.) Doug Kutzli makes a better impression as the lothario Mr. Paravicini, an Italian-accented man of questionable behavior. While Kutzli's performance is good, his previous stage work suggests he has the skill to imbue Mr. Paravicini with less slime and more suavity, so there would be some question as to whether or not this primary suspect is the killer. Bryan Woods' Major Metcalf, meanwhile, stands with the air of a military man while also being convivial during his interactions with the other characters, but otherwise does not stand out, which is surprising coming from an actor I generally enjoy for his boisterous performances.
An amiable Chris Tracy is, however, notable as the effeminate architect Christopher Wren, a guest enamored with the manor's furnishings. (For its part, Tristan Layne Tapscott's set design perfectly captures the rustic look of an old house's sitting room, one filled with antique furniture and decorations, a fireplace, and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase.) Tracy, more than anyone here, is allowed to play with the humor of his character, as he does when speaking of Mrs. Boyle; Christopher says, "That is a perfectly horrible woman" with the first four words delivered in Tracy's airy, jolly vocal tone, which drops to a gruffer one on the last two. Mike Kelly also comes off well as the adroit, poised, contemplative Detective Sergeant Trotter, who shows up to investigate the premises.
Without giving away the climax, I do think it's worth noting that the person who plays the killer, once revealed, alters his or her countenance and inflection to reveal someone who is mad without abandoning his or her normality. Rather than offering an abrupt about-face, there's a fluidity between this performer's sane act and crazed one that's believable and deserving of praise. Overall, though, the District Theatre's The Mousetrap, by forsaking comedy for caricature, proves itself a mismatch with Christie's playful script.
The Mousetrap runs at the District Theatre (1623 Second Avenue, Rock Island) through March 22, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)235-1654 or visiting DistrictTheatre.com.