PROVO — As the Vincent Price-esque voice welcomed the audience to the theater at BYU’s Pardoe Theatre, I knew I was in for a fun-filled evening. One of BYU’s Department of Theatre and Media Arts latest productions is the ever-popular The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. Excellent timing, grand sets, stupendous stagecraft among other things made this a very enjoyable evening around this Halloween season.
Anyone who has seen a production of this classic play (the longest running production in history) knows the story (and its twist ending) well. Set at Monkswell Manor in England, newlyweds Mollie and Giles Ralston (played by Sydney Howell and Spencer Hunsicker, respectively) are eager to open their new business, a guesthouse. While waiting for their guests to arrive, Mollie hears a radio report of the murder of one Maureen Lyon; the killer sporting a long overcoat, scarf, and light felt hat. Shortly thereafter, the guests arrive one by one, each possessing their own quirky qualities. They are Christopher Wren (played by Ian Buckley), Mrs. Boyle (played by Chelsea Mortensen), Major Metcalf (played by Stephen Moore), Miss Casewell (played by Kenzie Jepperson), and Mr. Paravicini (played by Chris Rollins). Not long after, Mollie receives a telephone call stating a police sergeant, Sergeant Trotter (played by Derek Johnson), will also arrive shortly. Trotter arrives informing them that one (or more) of them has a connection to the murder of Maureen Lyon and that he is there to snuff it out. Thus, the classic whodunit begins.
While fictional characters, each actor convincingly portrayed each of their characters with unique, human qualities. Throughout the evening, watching their facial expressions and motions as clues were revealed was interesting to watch. Shifty eyes, nervous fingers, and excellent body language were present in all. Because of this general nervousness, it was never clear who was the culprit. However, a few stand-out performances need to be mentioned.
As Christopher Wren, Buckley had a convincing character arc. Starting out as the peculiar houseguest, he evolved into a rather connectable human being with struggles and fears that were all too real. His general light-heartedness and zaniness was the first taste of comedy for the evening, and it set the stage for those future instances of comedic relief very well. Also, in terms of general likeability, Rollins as the eccentric Italian Paravicini was always extremely interesting to watch and listen to. His Italian accent, massive mustache, and facial expressions were a highlight of the evening. My favorite instance was when he went into an aside mini-monologue to tease if he was the murderer. And finally, with regards to overall stamina throughout the evening, Johnson as Sergeant Trotter was a powerhouse. As is typical in older plays, The Mousetrap can be quite wordy, and Trotter seems to speak the most of all the characters in this play. Not only was Johnson a powerful stage presence during the entire show, he never wavered in his accent, acting, or delivery. On top of all of these performances, the final reveal of the murderer was so amazingly done with connection to the character’s backstory, that it made the twist much more macabre and enjoyable. Finally, the commitment it takes for the first murder victim to lie on stage for the whole ten minute intermission is something praiseworthy to mention.
To add to these wonderful performances, the stagecraft and attention to detail were absolutely incredible (arguably, some of the best I’ve ever seen in a theatrical production). The scenic design by Nat Reed, the lighting design by Daniele Brown, and the sound design by Matthew Kupferer all added to the overall atmosphere of the production and it shows. There were many instances where the attention to detail made the suspension of belief much more easy to accept. For example, at the very top of the show, the radio announcement describing Maureen Lyon’s death shifted from a surrounding effect encompassing the theater, to the left side of the theater, where the actual radio was placed on the stage. Later, when the occupants of the house are snowed in and cannot get out, the lights rose, and the grand windows on stage looked out onto what actually looked like snow ridden pine trees with actual snow falling. This wasn’t a projection on a screen, either. Actual snow fell backstage, and it looked very convincing. Another favorite moment occurred when the windows were opened onstage, the wind would actually blow the giant draping curtains, giving the illusion of an actual snow storm blowing outside. One final trick (of many) which me and my guest rather enjoyed, was when a gun was fired (mild spoiler) in the dark, the light from the gun only encompassed where it was actually shot and not the entire stage, as often occurs in live productions. This may be a trivial thing to others, but to a theater geek like me, it showed the commitment to detail from the technical artists and director David Morgan.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening witnessing The Mousetrap for the first time. BYU did a stupendous job of bringing a Halloween favorite to the stage and introducing it to newcomers like me. To those looking for a spooky and suspenseful Halloween evening, BYU’s The Mousetrap will have you running right into its cage—and not let you go.