The Mousetrap is a must-see rite of passage production for any bona fide theater-lover. Parlor Room Theater’s production superbly captures the mood and mayhem of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery and will keep you guessing whodunit until the very last scene.
Now in the 60th year of its Diamond Anniversary, the longest running show of any kind in the world, The Mousetrap premiered in 1952 in London. With more than 25,000 productions internationally to date, this beloved masterpiece has been playing somewhere in the world ever since. Parlor Room Theater Director Frank Di Salvo Jr.’s keen attention to visual detail combined with Dame Christie’s enduring script and twist-ending make The Mousetrap an intriguing spectacle that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The sound of an old time Motorola radio croon of Nat King Cole singing “Walking My Baby Back Home,” Edith Piaf little sparrow chansons, and the Big Band sound of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” set the time period during the pre-curtain moments in the lovely Fine Arts Theater of Bishop McNamara High School. When the curtain rises on the drawing room of Monkswell Manor, the single setting for the play, there’s the look and feel of the English countryside in the middle of a blizzard: the sight of snow falling on an English fir, heavy dark wooden paneling surrounding a cozy fireside mantelpiece, high-backed period settee, a cushy leather arm chair, old world paintings of dead Royals hung just-so, a yesteryear radio box perched on an old Chippendale-legged writing desk and a hot water radiator in the corner. The impact of the English manor scenery and the director’s focus on visual effects sets the mood and tone of the play, creates the perfect atmosphere to carry out the plot, and is one of the main features of the production that adds to its success.
The plot thickens as a motley crew of eight strangers find themselves sequestered during a snow storm in an English guest house. An unsolved murder in the local vicinity is on the news and the murderer is among them. The cast of suspicious characters are: a newlywed couple who are the proprietors of Monkswell Manor, a complaining old woman who’s a former jurist, a young architect whose hyperactive antics make you wonder if he’s trying to hide something – like his sanity, an aloof retired military man, a woman with masculine tendencies who talks about her injured past, a man with a strange accent who claims to be a foreigner, and a Perry Mason-impersonating policeman who travels to the guest house on skis to find the murderer and prevent the fated doom of “Three Blind Mice.” As soon as he arrives another murder takes place in their midst and the shadowy secrets of everyone present is about to be exposed.
Patrick Gorirossi gives a standout performance as Christopher Wren, the architect, whose neurotic behavior seems particularly suspicious. His energetic hijinks and believable histrionics in reaction to being considered a murderer help give the play its drawing room comedic quality. Mary Beth Kerley’s portrayal of proprietor Molly Ralston has just the right amount of British prissiness and primness. She also has one of the best English accents of the entire cast. Thomas Di Salvo brings a pensive Henry Higgins-like quality to his character, Giles Ralston. One might have expected him at any minute to pull out his pipe and ask Molly, his wife, to go fetch his slippers. But in this production he was fidgety-busy tidying up the manor for arriving guests in an air of indignant irritability.
Ember Di Salvo’s set design and costumes add important elements to the characterization. Molly Ralston’s boxy plaid British wool pleated skirt and Eleanor Rigby pearls make a very proper dowdy-English fashion statement. Giles Ralston’s Mr. Rogers-like woolen sweaters and Hush Puppies have just the right British tweed.
Although the Fine Arts Theater is an attractive stage facility with high ceilings that appear to be acoustically sound, hearing the actors’ voices and dialogue was an ongoing concern. The actors were not miked and this likely contributed to the inability at times to discern what they were saying. The actors did a fairly good job of consistently speaking in crisp albeit very rapid English accents, but the sound system – or rather lack of one – made it difficult to follow exactly what was being spoken off and on throughout the play.
The cast worked well together, however, and were obviously well-rehearsed. They made good use of the expansive stage space and entered and exited with a naturalness and flexibility.
Parlor Room Theater is a family affair. Di Salvo family members starting with the theater’s founder, Frank Di Salvo Jr., are involved with every aspect of the production including the directing, acting, sound, set design and costume design. Frank’s future plans are “to make the Parlor Room Theater a major theater company and to make southern Prince Georges County a more thriving area for the arts.” Come on out and support him and enjoy one of the finest murder mysteries every performed on the stage in the Parlor Room Theater’s production of The Mousetrap. But don’t give away the ending!
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission.
The Mousetrap plays through August 4, 2013 at Parlor Room Theater at Bishop McNamara High School Fine Arts Theater – 6800 Marlboro Pike, in Forestville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the box office or online.