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STAGE REVIEW : Time Springs Agatha Christie's 'Mousetrap'

May 29, 1990|MARK CHALON SMITH

WESTMINSTER — Next to "Twin Peaks," David Lynch's weird, funny and invigorating retooling of the murder mystery, Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" would look like a house cat standing alongside a drunken leopard with purple spots.

OK, maybe that's a little strong. And it's probably not fair comparing a play that opened nearly four decades ago to a television series designed to kick off the '90s. That doesn't change the fact, though, that to a contemporary audience, "The Mousetrap" is likely to seem antique and predictable.

What about venerability? Can't "The Mousetrap," now at Westminster Community Theatre, be enjoyed as a classic, an example of Christie's craftsmanship and period-perfect plotting and characters?

Maybe, by Christie die-hards at least. But others probably will find it rather quaint. Despite its popularity--"The Mousetrap" remains the longest-running drama in London, the touristy stage equivalent of Big Ben--the whodunit isn't even representative of Christie's best work. Stick with the novels for that.

The plot is as musty as the Gothic mansion in which it is set: While a snowstorm gets nasty outside, a collage of peculiar people gathers at Monkswell Manor for the night. Eyebrows raise, and sidelong looks abound. The radio crackles with bad news about a deranged killer. He's among them, of course, and he wants revenge. Bodies are soon to fall.

The play's best aspect is its eccentric characters, and director Jeanne Sanner employs them as best she can. Pumping up their as-written oddness to comic proportions, she has come up with a vaguely out-of-kilter, fairly amusing first act that almost overcomes the play's deficiencies.

But "The Mousetrap" has thuddingly dull patches where nothing much happens, and the time is filled by unrevealing talk and opaque red herrings. By the second act, this whodunit is barely moving along. Even the sometimes sophisticated wit of Christie's dialogue can't maintain the momentum.

The cast tries gamely. Jim Hannah's swishy fop of an architect, Christopher Wren, is all fluttery mannerisms and shrieking syllables. Cliched, it nonetheless succeeds in eliciting laughs. A more interesting character is the cynical and shadowy Miss Casewell (Danielle Desmond).

The Ralstons, the young, somewhat blank-brained owners of the mansion, are played with baffled good-humor by JoAnne K. Binkley and Michael O'Brien Jr. The ominous Sgt. Trotter is given a decent reading by Eric F. Chandler, though he does get a tad wiggy at the end.

'THE MOUSETRAP'

A Westminster Community Theatre production of Agatha Christie's mystery. Directed by Jeanne Sanner. With JoAnne K. Binkley, Eric F. Chandler, Michael Scott Davies, Danielle Desmond, Jim Hannah, Liz Moore, Michael O'Brien Jr. and Edward J. Steneck. Set by Bronson. Lighting by Chuck Benton. Sound by Jenny Porter. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through June 9, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, at 7272 Maple St., Westminster. Tickets: $5 to $7. (714) 995-4113.

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