|Brian Reed, Carlyn Blount, Nick D'Ettorre plus masked audience members.|
Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
By Tina Arth
Is there a theater-lover alive who has never seen The Mousetrap? Agatha Christie’s classic murder-mystery holds the record for longest running show in the history of London’s West End – it opened in 1952, and has yet to close. Access to London is irrelevant, as the show has been produced countless times in practically every English-speaking theater on Earth, from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur to, well, Beaverton. Here’s a tip – whether you’re new to the show or know it like the back of your hand, you’ll enjoy the Experience Theatre Project’s innovative take on the production. For Mousetrap newbies there is the challenge of trying to puzzle out the mystery (hint – with one exception, none of them are exactly who they seem to be), while veterans get the fun of watching the many subtle ways that the actors try to lead the audience astray. But the real highlight is that the Experience staging is done as “an immersive mystery experience” – instead of the conventional stage/audience divide, the spectators are seated all over the set, sharing space (and sometimes even props) with the actors.
Director (and Experience Theatre Project Managing Director) Alisa Stewart plays every angle to ensure that the audience gets a full immersion. When we enter, each audience member is issued a papier-mâché mouse mask – great for helping us get into the mood, and very useful in differentiating audience from actors. We are encouraged to prowl around the set before the show starts, examining the mostly authentic antique furniture and props in search of clues before we take our seats and allow the play to unfold all around us. Once the show starts, actors walk all around us, occasionally handing us props or grabbing an available knee (mine, to be precise). Depending on where you are seated, you may need to turn or stretch a bit to follow all of the action, but blocking and set design create sightlines cleverly arranged so that nobody needs to miss anything critical.
The story itself is the quintessential British manor mystery, with a group of apparent strangers confined (in this case by a snowstorm) to a few rooms in a remote location, with telephone lines cut and murder in the air. In an earlier decade, three children had been placed in a terrible foster home, and one of the children had died of the neglect. The other two children are now grown; one of them has killed the abusive foster mom and left a note suggesting that the revenge will not stop with one murder. The action takes place in a nearby guesthouse, where the two hosts and five guests have no apparent connection to the tragedy – until the arrival (on skis, no less) of Sergeant Trotter, who is convinced that both a murderer and a prospective victim are among the residents. By the end of Act I one dead body proves that Trotter’s suspicions are valid, and the game’s afoot.
Given the genre and proximity to the audience, a touch of melodrama is unavoidable – in fact, the gently over-the-top performances of a few key characters add a lot of fun. Janice Moss (as the thoroughly obnoxious, appallingly entitled Mrs. Boyle) does a fine job - her accent and affect are perfect for the character you love to hate, and she sets the tone for 1950’s British class distinctions superbly. Another top-notch performance comes from Murren Kennedy, whose scattered, passionate but erratic “Christopher Wren” throws off clues and misdirection galore. Kennedy’s tense standoff with Nick D’Ettorre (as host Giles Ralston) injects a note of believable fire into the production, and allows Carlyn Blount (as Mollie Ralston) to display a range of controlled hysteria as she negotiates between the two bucks, each determined to protect her. James Luster deftly displays a radical personality shift as we learn more about the organized and authoritative Sergeant Trotter, and Brian Reed’s “Mr. Paravicini,” the unexpected guest, provides some wonderful moments as a red herring.
Stewart’s production team does a top-notch job in the challenging “immersive mystery” environment – from the detailed and authentic set pieces to elaborately timed lighting and sound cues. Appropriately, the overall audience experience at this Experience Theatre production is unique, engaging, and well worth a visit. Seating is limited, so patrons are advised to purchase tickets in advance at experiencetheatreproject.com.
Experience Theatre Project’s The Mousetrap runs through Sunday, March 11th at 12604 SW Farmington Rd., Beaverton, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.