(BACK) Matthew Brennan, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Clay Smith, (FRONT) J.R. Stuart, Rita Thomas. Photo:DDP
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Lee Buckholz
A review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2021, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Derby Dinner Playhouse is bringing a bit of mystery back to the stage, with a new production of The Mousetrap, a play from master mystery writer Agatha Christie, and the longest running play in history.
The cleverly written stage thriller with a surprise twist ending premiered in London’s West End in 1952 and was still running until the 2020 pandemic shut down theaters in March 2020, racking up over 25,000 performances. For 68 years, audiences were asked not to reveal the twist ending.
The story has a typical Christie setup: a young couple opens a bed and breakfast, and five strangers arrive to fill the available rooms. Just prior to their arrival, a woman has been murdered, and before long another murder occurs on the premises. A police sergeant arrives to get to the bottom of the case, while all are snowed in by the brutal winter weather outside.
As usual with a DDP production, the casting is spot-on. Paul McElroy and Rachel Elisabeth have excellent chemistry as Mollie and Giles, the newlyweds running the B & B, and you can’t help but get invested in their plight as their relationship begins to crumble under the stress of the investigation. Bobby Conte’s Sergeant Trotter is all business when necessary but conveys a genuine emotional front that brings home his character’s journey. J.R. Stuart is both hilarious and menacing as the mysterious Mr. Pavavicini, a stranger that shows up after an alleged automobile accident in the storm, and Mandi Elkins Hutchins is fascinating as the mannish Miss Casewell, with secrets of her own yet to be revealed. Matthew Brennan provides his usual animated performance as the eccentric Christopher Wren, although his appearance is not nearly as disheveled as the other characters frequently describe him.
Lee Buckholz’s direction is strong, keeping things moving mostly at a good pace, though there were some awkward pauses during the opening night. Scott Bradley’s original score is nice and atmospheric, and Devon Rodlund’s sound design punctuates it nicely. Alexa Holloway’s lighting design also keeps the mood very eerie.
My only real complaint is that this is the first time I actually didn’t like a set design at Derby Dinner. Director Buckholz’s creation is very busy and crowded; there is so much furniture and excess decorations and columns and doorways it detracted from the actors’ performances; they seemed lost among all of the scenery at times. Less is more!
Overall though, a well done production of a popular play. If you have managed to never have seen it or had the plot spoiled, I think you will be genuinely surprised by whodunnit!
Featuring Matthew Brennan, Bobby Conte, Rachel Elisabeth, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Paul McElroy, Clay Smith, J.R. Stuart, and Rita Thomas.
September 29 – November 7, 2021
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.