Review: Naples Players sleuth good time with Christie mystery 'Mousetrap'

Guests at Monkswell Manor are questioned by Detective Sergeant Trotter, Benjamin Jacob, about a local murder during a rehearsal for the Naples Players’ production of “The Mousetrap” Friday, April 5, 2013 at Sugden Community Theatre in Naples.

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Guests at Monkswell Manor are questioned by Detective Sergeant Trotter, Benjamin Jacob, about a local murder during a rehearsal for the Naples Players’ production of “The Mousetrap” Friday, April 5, 2013 at Sugden Community Theatre in Naples.

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IF YOU GO

What: Agatha Christie's celebrated murder-mystery about snowed-in guests at a British manor

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 11

Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples

Cost: $35

Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.org

On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog

Oh, Agatha. Christie of course. Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. And author of "The Mousetrap," one of the most famous and celebrated plays in the English language. She might even give that Willy Shakespeare guy a run for his money.

"The Mousetrap" finds a group of strangers (OR ARE THEY?) stranded in a guest house during a blizzard. A killer is on the loose. A guest dies. All have opportunity, none have alibis, all have secrets. Who? Did? It? The show has been running continuously in London since 1952, clocking more than 25,000 performances.

Only Dame Agatha could yank a sold-out Naples Players house in from a drenching downpour, one that saw patrons attempting to wring out wet clothes in the bathrooms.

Only Dame Agatha could hold the audience, sated from too much good food and too many glasses of good wine, rapt in the over-warm, steamy auditorium.

Only Dame Agatha could stoke audience anticipation to a fever pitch before intermission, dropping the curtain on screams, a dead body and a room full of suspects.

Only Dame Agatha could leave the hall abuzz. Whodunit? Who's the killer? The audience had to know.

I won't spoil. No one will. For more than six decades, audiences take a vow not to reveal the killer. But try to spot the clues. And don't look on Wikipedia.

"The Mousetrap" closes the Naples Players season on, if not a high note, at least a satisfactory one. Crowds will love the multitude of twists and turns built into the plot and the excellent character acting but may be divided by some of the creative elements and the show's stylized feel.

Director Paul Graffy favors a high-concept style. I'm not sure that Agatha Christie needed such a high-gloss makeover, but it does offer an interesting take on the play.

Graffy, working with scenic designer Jason Sherwood and costumer Dot Auchmoody, imagines "The Mousetrap" as a vivid black-and-white fantasyland. A palette of black, white and gray, with single-item pops of blood red introduced via clothing after the murder, harkens back to the days of TV and movie serials.

But I'm wondering if Graffy intends something else. The purposefully dizzying array of patterns on the stage (squares, rectangles, stripes, diamonds) hints at a subtle attempt to evoke M.C. Escher or the chaos of fractal theory.

I like the thought - shifting patterns reflecting the uncertainty on stage - but the intense white on black coloration makes the show frankly hard to watch. It's almost like trying to stare at one of those Magic Eye pictures; you're never quite able to focus on what's really there.

Working with a mix of veteran community theater actors and less-experienced amateurs, Graffy, always a meticulous director, aims for a precisely acted show that felt a bit flat on opening night, as if the pieces hadn't quite fit together yet.

He wants each of the actors to embody the murder-mystery trope that Christie created - the trusting wife, the suspicious husband, the crotchety spinster, the mysterious single woman, etc. I can see where the performances are headed, but I wish Graffy would encourage his cast to embrace the roles.

The show feels a touch lifeless, as if the cast were still finding their characters and worried about just speaking the lines instead finding the comfortable spot where they can interact with each other on stage. Christie's taut script creates tension, but the show needs a few more performances to find its groove and pick up the pace a bit.

Veteran Ann Hoover carps, moans, complains and growls her way into the spotlight as dissatisfied lodger Mrs. Boyle. She dislikes the decor, the owners, the bedrooms and the other guests. There's not much Mrs. Boyle does like, to be honest. Hoover steals cigarettes, candies and the show with a sneering, vicious tone and her haughty manner. But what is she hiding?

Newcomer Julie Broadhurst excels as icy, aloof Miss Casewell. In sleek, masculine garb, short blonde hair in a neat cut, she fizzes with mystery. Her line delivery - curt and cutting, but with a sly smile - fits perfectly.

Erin Laughlin and Neil Beightol bring snap (and secrets) to the married innkeepers, while Matt Striegel offers insane craziness as a troubled young man. Sepp Ronay charms as a retired military man.

A having-way-too-much-fun Michael Hennessey revels as the mysterious Mr. Paravincini. What's in his suitcase? Or that Rolls-Royce? I love the energy and the outrageousness, but wish Graffy had pulled the accent back toward comprehension just a hair. Benjamin Jacob brings intensity to his ambitious police sergeant.

Auchmoody's costumes, in shades of black, white and gray, work within Graffy's vision to offer hints of the character's personalities. Pay close attention to the costume change that occurs after intermission. Think "mystery cliches" and try to identify the subtle, albeit colorful clue that points to the perpetrator.

Looking for a twisty mystery? There's no butler, but anyone on stage could have committed the crime. Check out "The Mousetrap." And swear not to reveal the secret.

I need to name something Agatha. But what? Oh, Agatha. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

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