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The Mousetrap

by Sean McQuaid

Ever experience déja vu? Your dreaded chronicler has had his share of it over the years, and it's a feeling that flares anew upon viewing ACT's recent production of The Mousetrap, staged at the Carrefour Theatre in late May and early June. It's a lovingly lavish adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie play, but there's something oddly familiar about the whole business.

The play itself feels familiar, of course-Christie's Mousetrap is one of the longest-running, most-produced plays in theatre, and arguably a prototype for the modern murder mystery (as one Carrefour audience member remarked, it's rather like watching a life-size game of Clue). Even those who don't know the story itself will recognize elements which have long since become clichés or conventions of the genre.

That being said, there's also something familiar about this particular production. Specifically, your nostalgic natterer is reminded of ACT's Four-Cornered Couch (1998). The Mousetrap is a bigger, slicker affair, but both projects are staged at the Carrefour, the two shows have several players in common, and both productions are impressive efforts built around a somewhat unimpressive script. For all its celebrated longevity and undeniable historical significance, The Mousetrap is a conspicuously weak text: repetitive dialogue, baffling plot holes, vexing inconsistencies and plausibility-straining conveniences abound, and some of the characters amount to little more than overblown set dressing. It's not a play that stands up to close scrutiny.

So it's flawed fluff. That being said, The Mousetrap is fun flawed fluff, a flavourful slice of well-aged theatrical cheese, complete with humour, suspense and a juicy twist ending; and the ACT cast & crew do it ample justice with this classy, cleverly playful production.

Director Monique Lafontaine puts her own stamp on the play by adapting it to a Prince Edward Island setting-but the characterizations and the basic situation remain the same. The Ralstons (Mary Joan Campbell and Christian Gavard), a young married couple, are getting started as innkeepers at Monkswell Manor, where their guests include the disagreeable Mrs. Boyle (Barb Rhodenizer), the distinguished Major Metcalf (Terry Pratt), the eccentric Christopher Wren (Kirk MacKinnon), the mysterious Ms. Casewell (Aldera Chisholm) and the morbidly bizarre Mr. Paravicini (Rob Thomson). When circumstances strand hosts and guests alike at the inn, Sergeant Trotter (Joey Weale) appears, warning them of a murderer in their midst. As the evening unfolds, suspicions are raised, secrets are revealed, and the killer is exposed...but not before committing a murder or two, of course.

Lafontaine assembles a wonderfully eclectic ensemble cast, able actors all, though MacKinnon and Thomson (who also produced the show) stand out in particular through their loopily larger-than-life portrayals of Wren and Paravicini-hammy stuff, but very entertaining indeed. The other roles are less flashy, but all performed very capably, and every actor nets some laughs over the course of the evening.

It's a very polished, professional production. The lighting (designed by Paul Druet and operated by Danny Maloney) is effective, the set (designed by Elissa Baltzer and constructed by various ACT personnel) is gorgeous, and the original music (composed and conducted by Carl Mathis) underlines and enhances the grimly playful mood of the show-a very nice touch indeed, especially since original music is something of a rare bonus in local theatre. All told, Lafontaine and company provide more than enough tasty tidbits to make it worth getting caught in The Mousetrap.

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