LEHI — Attending small-town community theaters makes me feel like I’m in one of those movies where the stuffy city snob has to move to a small town where all the residents are friendly and the buildings are charming, and the aforementioned city-person eventually falls in love with the small town. Not that I was the snob in the story, but I sure fell in love not only with the Lehi City Arts Council’s production of The Mousetrap, but also the small-town, comfortable, “at home” feel of the whole experience.
The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, has been running continuously on London’s West End for the past 60 years and is the longest running production of the modern era. I found it incredibly, therefore, that–for such a history–this was my first exposure to Agatha Christie’s suspenseful play. The play opens in 1952 as young Mr. and Mrs. Ralston are putting the final touches on their barely-open guest house Monkswell Manor, located a few miles outside of London. Guests soon arrive, along with news of a murder in London the day before and the possible connection of Monkswell Manor to the grim affair. The premise makes the show sound like a dark, distressing tale, and I wondered through some of the play whether other productions were produced with a much darker tone. Lehi’s, however, had a lighter–but still plenty ominous–feel, and would be appropriate for all ages. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that startled me, and moments when my jaw fell to the floor–a well-rounded story, if you ask me.
I was charmed by Lehi’s intimate space; there couldn’t have been more than 200 seats in the room, and it proved the perfect setting for an unpretentious show like The Mousetrap. The all-around level of detail impressed me most, though. From the set itself (designed by Kurt Elison) to set dressings and props to costumes (designed by Jean Hatch & Paige Albrecht), each piece looked to have been carefully chosen, crafted, and placed onstage not only to set the scene but also to enhance the characters. A bright blue couch, an antique writing desk, a modest chandelier, and art adorning the walls of the set created a wonderfully vintage feel. Mrs. Ralston and Chris Wren’s costumes were lively and colorful, just like their characters. I especially enjoyed the “working” radio and lights.
Co-directors Paige Albrecht and Kurt Elison worked wonders at balancing the onstage action for the entire audience, a task far from simple with a thrust stage and a tight space. I’m convinced there wasn’t a bad seat in that theater, and that’s attest to great direction, not architecture. Albrecht and Elison’s careful direction also showed in the deliberate movements of the actors and the overall clarity of the story.
The production was by no means perfect. There were weak actors and the occasional dropped accent, but on the whole the show flowed well and with a great pace. I was especially pleased by the solid pacing, something so often overlooked or altogether forgotten in many community productions. Lacey Jackson as Mrs. Ralston and Nathaniel Brown as Sergeant Trotter were by far the most polished actors. Their performances carried the show, stabilizing the inexperience of much of the rest of the cast. Jackson played an energetic, lovable Mollie Ralston and was thoroughly focused at all times. She only got better as the show went on, as did Brown’s Sergeant Trotter. They both played wonderful moments of realization and transformation in what could potentially have been stale retellings of an old play. Lisa Shaughnessy as Mrs. Boyle was also a treat to watch and was utterly detestable from the moment she stepped onstage. Paul Morley as Christopher Wren grew on me as the show progressed and did well with the majority of the show’s comic relief, while Jack Kingsford as Paravicini had a firm, spirited handle on the rest of it.
After the bows, the audience was charged to keep the show’s ending a secret. This is the tradition of the play, we were told. Don’t worry; I have no intention of giving anything away! To those actors who carried secrets throughout the show, I give you a hearty bravo. I was entirely shocked by the outcome and at just the right moment–not a second too soon or too late.
I’m glad my first experience with this play came in such an intimate, community-focused space. For those who are long-time fans of this Agatha Christie classic, Lehi City Arts Council’s production may be the perfect production to re-kindle your love for the play. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, this may be a most opportune time to experience the secrets, the suspense, and an ending you won’t soon forget.