It’s supposed to be hard to put your finger on the guilty party in a whodunit. In the fashion of murder mysteries, the perpetrator could be any of the characters who take the stage. And who done it becomes, by the end of the production, glaringly clear. The realization can be satisfying, bewildering, disappointing, or even painful in the end. If you knew it all along, well, you get kudos after the performance for being some kind of armchair sleuth.
Without giving too much away, in Lancaster Opera House’s current production of the Agatha Christie murder mystery, Mousetrap, pretty much everybody does it.
Matthew Rittler does it with an enthusiastic performance of the character of Christopher Wren, with an animation and flair that speaks not only to the mysteriousness of his character’s true identity, but also with a humor that brings fun to the play the other characters don’t get much chance to deliver.
Jaimee Harmon does it with poise and presence in her depiction of central character, Mollie Ralston, the better half of the married couple who are proprietors of the guesthouse where all the action takes place.
Nathanial Higgins does it with his articulate and convincing portrayal of Detective Sergeant Trotter, whose scrupulous questioning of all the houseguests guides us down the varying pathways of finger-pointing guilt.
Jackson DiGiacomo, who plays the other half of the guesthouse proprietors, Giles Ralston, does it with and overtly proper being of a man who doesn’t exactly welcome opening his house to a band of transient guests, but is determined to make a go of it as a business.
That’s only four of the players in the total band of eight. Yet all are guilty of realistic energy, of flowing through challenging dialogue with altogether fitting portrayals of their characters – to include the elderly and proper Mrs. Boyle played by Susan King; the youngish and purposefully strong Miss Casewell, played by Anne Roaldi Boucher; the stout and exacting military Major Metcalf, played by David C. Mitchell; and the unexpected and deceptively clever foreigner Mr. Paravicini, played by Monish Bhattachayya. You can point your finger at any of them.
And you can turn your gaze to the set – fully pleasing, realistic to the period and painstakingly rendered, complete with crown moldings, appropriate lighting, logs for the fireplace, velvety drapes and latched swing-open windows, and a great looking radio through which we first learn of murder, over the “wireless,” that happened not far from the guesthouse. You even suspect the gifted Set Designer, David Dwyer, may have added the creaking wood floor to the Opera House stage, it’s all so well done, the detail is remarkable.
The story finds the Ralston couple welcoming the cast of patrons to their home, which has been recently converted to a guesthouse for their new business venture. The couple has been married only a year, still loving newlyweds, still learning about one another. It immediately becomes evident there’s been a murder not far from the guesthouse, but the fact goes largely unnoticed amidst a blizzard of a snowstorm and the stream of guests arriving.
The characters are distinct, each idiosyncratic their own right, making them intriguing enough to bring suspicion onto them. It’s not until the appearance of Detective Trotter that the plot gets rolling, the possibility of another murder becomes evident, and suspicion begins to fall everywhere. All the marks of a murder mystery are there. The talent is a mix of seasoned local actors and crew, and very promising relative newcomers. Whether the audience finds the outcome satisfying, puzzling, or disappointing is hardly the matter. There’s a satisfaction in the journey given Mousetrap’s outstanding performances and Lancaster Opera House’s first-rate production for casual theatergoers or armchair sleuths.
The Mousetrap is about 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission, and is currently running through February 9. More information is at http://lancasteropera.org/