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But no one knows who the murder is (except the murderer) until the final scene

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MICHAEL HENLEY, CONTEMPORARY IMAGES - Detective Sgt. Trotter, from left, played by Steven Fried, questions Mollie, played by Courtney Maxwell-Shey, as well as Christopher Wren, portrayed by Jeffrey Sanders, about the murder at Monkswell Manor. Major Metcalf, far right, played by George Farquhar, is trying to calm Wren down after he was accused of the murder.At least in the opening night performance, the Sandy Actors Theatre Company performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” was a bit disappointing.

But only for two reasons.

There’s no doubt Christie’s murder-mystery script is flawless; otherwise, it might not have achieved an all-time world record and run continuously in a London Theater for more than 25,000 performances.

But in the SAT version, one of the leads — Seth Haas, who plays an owner of the Monkswell Manor guesthouse — often was not believable.

A few brief stumbles over his lines were only minor distractions, but more changes in facial expression and voice inflection would help the audience understand better what he is feeling and thinking. In few words, the advice of this reviewer is to relax and show us the real Giles Ralston.

Another weakness in the company, unfortunately, occurred in the cast member last to come on stage, but with likely the most to say.

Steven Fried, who portrays Detective Sgt. Trotter, did not use a stage voice that carried throughout the audience. That mismatch, with the other actors who are heard very well, makes it difficult to follow the story, especially for those just a little hard of hearing — and particularly when he spoke with his back to the audience.

That quiet voice often lacked the exaggerated expression necessary to make Christie’s story come off the stage and become real to the audience.

But there are many high points in the current SAT offering, including Courtney Maxwell-Shey’s portrayal of Mollie Ralston, the other owner of Monkswell Manor.

Maxwell-Shey allows her feelings to be seen and heard, and always speaks with the volume of a stage voice, even if she is talking with someone near.

No doubt stealing the hearts of some theater visitors is Daniel Robertson, whose portrayal of Mr. Paravicini brought many a smile and chuckle. His ability to act and react while not in center stage or speaking was laudable. His character became more transparent because of Robertson’s ability to vary his voice and facial expressions.

Although it is his first time on the SAT stage, Jeffrey Sanders’ depiction of a somewhat effeminate Christopher Wren was refreshing.

Also stimulating was the ability of George Farquhar as Major Metcalf to show his emotions and maintain an extremely good Scottish accent and way of speaking.

Perhaps the most stimulating was the irritating manner of Kate Lacey in her staging of the critical Mrs. Boyles, who has a negative comment for everything and everybody.

And finally, Cody Salaz’s portrayal of Miss Casewell, a young woman who acts much like an older teenager, was spot on. She easily could have been taken for a 16-year-old girl, with her self-centered attitude, which she was able to carry throughout the two-act play.

Christie’s script takes the audience through a wild whodunit, with any one of the cast members as the killer suspect.

But it is worth waiting until the final moments of Act 2 to find out the whole story and the real killer — a person not likely identified by any theater patron in advance as a criminal.

That final twist, so typical of Christie scenarios, makes it worth taking the time to watch as amateur sleuths stumble through an inquiry into a murder while trying to prevent another death.

Compliments also to Robin Stretch, who accomplished a stage setup that didn’t require those distracting set changes between scenes and acts.

And kudos to director Doug Holtry, who took his role to the extreme by schooling his actors on each character’s personality. They responded well, knowing how to leave their persona at home and think only like their character while onstage.

Taking his role even further, Holtry also was involved in set and lighting design and set construction.

Audiences in future weekends will benefit from the diligence of this theater company, which continues to impress and strive for excellence.

Contract Publishing

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