It is said that novelist and playwright Agatha Christie always became quite angry when reviewers would reveal the plot, and possibly even the surprise endings, of her mystery works. To keep the spirit of Christie at bay, I shall not speak about the plot of her play The Mousetrap, currently getting a production at Theatre Knoxville Downtown, other than to say it virtually defines the murder mystery genre. If you’ve never seen The Mousetrap, and have no intention of venturing to London for the West End production, now approaching an astounding 65th anniversary of its record-setting run, reserve a seat at TKD and enjoy the mystery.
Of course, British theatre is known for its iconic murder mysteries and drawing room comedies. Productions of them in their native territory seem to have a common trait—razor-sharp pacing and tightly delivered dialog. Authors like Christie understand that audiences must quickly differentiate the characters as they reveal themselves via the snappy dialog, and so those characters are given distinct personalities and styles. This is certainly a case with the TKD production directed by Rebecca Gómez, who instinctively seemed to find the right match between characters and actors.
Most impressive in casting and in the British murder mystery style of delivery were the characters of Mollie and Giles Ralston (respectively, Lydia Weeks and David Snow) as the young proprietors of Monkswell Manor, the quintessential out-of-the-way old residence converted to a guest house.
Quickly, Monkswell Manor fills up with its amazingly distinctive guest list: Christopher Wren (Casey Cain), the hard-to-impress Mrs. Boyle (Sandy Failing), Major Metcalf (Steven Trigg), Ms. Casewell (Courtney Woolard), the oddly suspicious Mr. Paravicini (Lee Wittenberg), and eventually, Det. Sgt. Trotter (Adam Crandall).
It’s worth taking a sidestep here to mention that Theatre Knoxville Downtown is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to move to a larger space with more amenities, both for the audience and for the productions. While the company has persevered admirably in its current cramped quarters since 2005, it has done so making a number of theatrical compromises. One very obvious compromise in this production of The Mousetrap was the lack of mood-setting lighting that is practically essential in mystery theatre. Without being able to indicate time of day, delineate suspicious character entrances and exits, or provoke suspense, an incredible burden is placed on the actors to supply even more theatrical imagination.
Of course, theatre is all about imagination. And part of the joy of attending theatre is immersion into another world by way of imagination.