The Mice Will Play 

click to enlarge 20070131_003710_2_storyjpg
Giles Ralston (Rob Barron) and Christopher Wren (Christopher L. Dean) engage in an improv staring contest.
The Mousetrap
7pm dinner, 8pm
curtain Wed-Sat
Through Feb 17
$24.95 general, $21.95 military
Wed-Thu
$27.95 general, $24.95 military
Fri-Sat
Harlequin Dinner Theatre
2652 Harney Road
222-9694
There’s nothing quite so comforting as the murder mysteries of one’s youth, from books to board games. Miss Scarlet, in the ballroom, with the candlestick; the words taste like a big sip of hot chocolate on a cold, rainy day. Speaking of great bedfellows, food and theater should never, ever be parted. All this to say: Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap will be playing at the Harlequin Dinner Theatre until February 17.

I can’t say there will be hot chocolate, but coffee — adulthood’s cocoa surrogate — will be in attendance as will its cooler cousin, iced tea. Other dinner offerings include soup and salad, a choice of entrees not limited to baked chicken breast and beef stew, and last but not least, chocolate cream pie, carrot cake, and coconut pie for dessert. More homestyle than restaurant grade, the unadorned food is made better by the incredibly friendly, attentive waitstaff. These kind souls are strictly volunteers, so don’t forget, as I did, to bring a little extra cash in case you’re feeling gracious. (The servers visit during intermission, so make sure to order another cup of coffee to sip during the second act!)

Now that the matter of food has been dispensed with, on with the show! For readers who may not be familiar with The Mousetrap, its premise is simple. Novice guesthouse owners Mollie and Giles Ralston find themselves snowed in with five boarders whom they barely know on the very same day a murder has been committed in London. When a detective arrives on skis, it becomes clear that both the murderer and his or her next victim(s) are among the guesthouse (called Monskwell Manor) visitors — a troubled young man, an aged major, a well-traveled spinster, a wealthy old woman, and a mysterious foreigner.

Of course, the characters are all grotesques, as much as any character in Clue, but that best serves the plot ... like a kind of built-in poker face. Harlequin’s actors certainly ham it up, to varying degrees of success. Linda Graves (Mrs. Boyle) — who found the best balance of camp and fine acting — spoke with the most believable British accent, affecting a speech tick similar to Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones.

(I am truly sorry to reference Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in a theater review, but this is who she sounds like.)

On the other end of the spectrum was an overly interested, even shrill, Desiree Childers as Mollie, and Jason Smiley as Mr. Paravicini, who seemed almost robotic, making the single same hand gesture ad nauseum.

Physicality and dialect aside, it’s really pace that makes or breaks this show. Where Act I was tight and snappy, II felt slower than molasses (as farcical whodunits are wont to do if not performed at rapid-fire speed) because the viewers were more stealthy than the characters in solving the mystery. The Mousetrap was actually first a short radio play called Three Blind Mice, and although the stage version has enjoyed an exceedingly long run in England, I surmise some audience members would prefer a more brief encounter over the airwaves. It’s hard to blame them. Modern audiences are almost too savvy for plays of this kind, because Christie’s tricks and twists have been recycled and hammered into our heads, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. (If there’s one thing Nancy Drew and The Baby-sitter’s Club mystery books taught me, it’s this: question everything.)

Ultimately, the draw and charm of the Harlequin Dinner Theatre’s Mousetrap lies in the cozy, nostalgic atmosphere the play itself radiates; the warm, familiar invitation to play detective. Of course, a cup of coffee doesn’t hurt either. 


More by Ashley Lindstrom

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