‘Mousetrap’ comedy-mystery draws loud laughter, plentiful praise

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★½

Andre Amarotico as Christopher Wren and Maria Mekhenyenko as Miss Casewell share a moment of glee in “The Mousetrap.” Photo by Robin Jackson.

The accents in the Ross Valley Players’ “The Mousetrap” are oh, so, very refined, oh, so, right-on, and oh, so, very British.

The shipshape, sturdy garb and footwear of the Agatha Christie comedy-mystery, the world’s longest running play, are likewise oh, so, very British.

As is the proper yet homey set.

But the opening night audience’s laughter, especially in the first act, is oh, so American — loud, that is.

And the sold-out exiting crowd’s verbal praise for the acting of the entire eight-member ensemble cast — and the brilliant directing (and exquisite timing) of Adrian Elfenbaum, whose work I’d praised in 2017 for the RVP production of “The 39 Steps” — is oh, so lavish.

This 67-year-old goreless, sexless whodunit in which characters are trapped together in the Monkswell Manor guesthouse by a blizzard that’s shut down roads and (seemingly) phone service launches the community theater company’s 90th season. At least two murders happen (one offstage), as might be expected from virtually any Christie storyline, and playgoers can also expect her usual array of (twisting) revelations before the show ends.

I hadn’t seen “The Mousetrap” in nearly half a century, had forgotten who was hiding what and who was pretending to be whomever he or she wasn’t, and was blown away by how good the production is.

It’s impossible for me to laud any one actor since all eight of them are extraordinarily excellent:

Near-revelatory instant in “The Mousetrap” features (from left) Maria Mekhenyenko as Miss Casewell, Steve Price as Major Metcalf and Heather Buck as Molly Ralston. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Tori Truss as Miss Boyle, an ex-magistrate who’s perfectly snooty and a fuss-budget; Andre Amarotico, an over-the-top Equity standout as Christopher Wren, a young, bug-eyed weirdo who flits around like a fly on speed; Heather Buck as Mollie Ralston, novice innkeeper who’s sheepishly hell-bent on retaining her deep, dark, long-buried secret; Robert Molossi as a Mr. Paravicini, an uninvited guest with unrestrained Italian intonations; Maria Mikheyenko as Miss Casewell, a flamboyant yet pensive lodger with a penchant for manish attire; Steve Price as an ex-military man overloaded with luggage and sometimes as blustery as the storm outside; Evan Held as Giles Ralston, Mollie’s comparatively new husband whose surreptitious trip to London raises suspicion; and Steven Samp as Detective Sgt. Trotter, a skiing sleuth with pronounced interrogation skills but none of the charm of either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, other Christie inventions.

Christie’s plot, with a flash of genius, revolves around the childhood “Three Blind Mice” ditty.

Because theatergoers are asked to refrain from providing spoilers, I’ll offer none here.

But I will say that the only flaw in the RVP production doesn’t fall on any locals but on the renowned playwright and best-selling author who penned “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on the Nile” and more than 200 stories: Act 2 bogs down a bit when the gumshoe stereotypically gathers the suspects together and starts delineating, with three tons of exceedingly complex explanatory verbiage, why each could be guilty.

Still, I found the performances so outstanding — particularly when related to physical comedy — that even that elongated stretch (or references to the abuse of foster children) couldn’t impede my overall delight.

“The Mousetrap” will run at The Barn, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, through Oct. 13. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $14-$29. Information: (415) 456-9555 or www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →