For something to become a cliche--before it gets replayed, tweaked and spun off--it has to start somewhere, a point when it's a groundbreaking idea that sets the template.
It's rare that we get to go back and examine the origins of such an idea, but that's exactly the chance Idaho Shakespeare Festival is offering audiences with its latest production, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.
And popular is an understatement when it comes to this play--it has been running for 60 years in London. In honor of the anniversary, 60 theater companies around the world were granted permission to stage their own productions this year.
In true who-done-it form, The Mousetrap pulls audiences through a maze of hidden motivations, secret identities, red herrings and, of course, murder in grand fashion, keeping everyone guessing the killer's identity up until the big reveal.
The ISF production is a new take on the classic, giving it an edgier interpretation. Plot points are introduced by characters using old-fashioned microphones onstage--a nod to the radio play that was the origin for the theatrical production--and the dialogue of the final scene is a recording played as the actors go through the motions. The effect highlights the contrast between the devastating effects such an event would have and the light wrap-up of the script.
Director Drew Barr plays up moments of levity made possible by the sometimes antiquated language (haughty vs. hottie, for example) and eclectic cast of characters. While fun, it sometimes breaks the building tension necessary in a mystery.
The set somehow combines period 1950s while radiating a steampunk, industrial vibe. A single central set piece serves as the entrance, and its Tim Burton-esqe angled door, black color palette and walls covered with radios set the tone.
The cast of eight rarely leave the stage, instead using the background to serve almost as a police lineup for the audience to continually review the suspects.
The cast is a nice mix of familiar faces (Lynn Allison, Sara M. Bruner, Jodi Dominick) and new players (Paul Hurley, Dan Lawrence, Ryan David O'Byrne), and all found their rhythm.
Unfortunately, there are some moments of what should be quick, tension-filled dialogue that are instead peppered with overly long pauses. Additionally, the choice of leading into intermission with a modern song rather than a period one is jarring and messes with the continuity.
Still, the play is undeniably fun and audiences are pulled into the guessing game with such ease that they don't realize how involved they are. For those who love a good mystery, you can't go wrong with Christie, and the ISF production does a great job of honoring the master.