Hartford Stage has opened its new season with an Agatha Christie chestnut and one of the longest running plays of all time, “The Mousetrap”. The classic mystery looks good in Hartford, but is seriously lacking in other areas.
Set in a snowbound guesthouse outside of London, “The Mousetrap” opens with news that a recent murder has been committed just as seven strangers gather at the home. These include a motley crew of colorful characters that include a disagreeable old judge, Mrs. Boyle (Yvette Ganier), a flamboyant self-proclaimed architect named Christopher Wren (Christopher Geary) and a verbose Italian, Mr. Paravicini (Jason O’Connell) who apparently can’t stop dancing. Of course they all become suspects including the newly married couple (Sam Morales and Tobias Segal) who run the guesthouse. When Detective Sergeant Trotter (Brendan Dalton) arrives on the scene (on skis!), it’s not long before murder most foul rears its ugly head.
All of this is Christie in her prime although I would argue that her “Ten Little Indians” is a similar and far better plotted mystery. At Hartford Stage what works best is the drop-dead gorgeous scenic design that Riw Rakkulchon has created for the play. It is an expansive space with multiple entrances and exits, plush leather furniture, smoldering fireplace and spectacular upstage windows draped in yards of rich fabric with a view of falling snow. Every inch of the stage is worth examining from eclectic furniture pieces to the antler and sword displays on the wall. This is a set that defines murder mystery and it’s all moodily and effectively lit by designer Krista Smith.
But then there’s the acting. Under Jackson Gay’s busy direction, her company of actors have decided to really “ACT” as they each attempt to make their characters more outrageous and hammy every time they enter the room. Humor is a big part of the mystery, of course, but murder suspects should also be grounded in some kind of reality. With these extremely broad characterizations, there is little at stake. Primary culprit here is O’Connell whose thick accent, constant eye rolls and non-stop twirling of cane and tapping of toes made one wish he would become an early victim. Dalton’s police detective shouted every line at the top of his lungs and Geary’s talkative Christopher Wren is singularly tiresome. Both Morales and Segal fare best here as the married couple who have a few secrets they have kept from each other.
I question costumer Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s decision to have characters in the same clothes over a two-day period. The use of original music (by Broken Chord) to underscore scenes like we were watching a movie, is ultimately more distracting than dramatic. But “The Mousetrap” is almost foolproof as entertainment and forgiving mystery lovers will no doubt enjoy every exaggerated minute of this otherwise problematic revival.
“The Mousetrap” continues at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street in Hartford through November 6. Masks are suggested but not required. For further information, call the box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: email@example.com.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.