SHOWING : January 24, 2003 - February 16, 2003
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
This Agatha Christie classic mystery has run with over 20,000 performances. An English countryside guest house gets snowed up...and there may be a murderer inside. of course everyone is a suspect and they all have a secret. Enjoy this wonderful mystery and see if you can geuss whodunit!
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
|by Mama Alma
Wednesday, March 5, 2003 ||
Dedalus and I normally agree on productions (see, for instance, our almost identical takes on Soul-stice Rep's Midsummer Night's Dream last year). However, I found Matthew Patten's Det. Sgt. Trotter one of the better things about Stage Door's Mousetrap. I thought the accent very workable working class.|
In fact, all the accents were very good, not just "general English" but specific to locations and class, so that, for instance, Mary Claire Klooster's Miss Casewell came off as someone who'd traveled a great deal and gained a more continental tone. Cheryl Kasper and Christopher Deel, as the Ralstons, on the other hand, were much more "received pronunciation."
My problems with this play have always been with the first scene. As Dedalus points out, efforts were made to warm up the Ralstons. They are, after all the principal characters the audience needs to care about. But I had a great deal of difficulty believing these people were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Oh, hell, let me be frank: I didn't believe they were sleeping together. But maybe I presume too much about 1940s English couples. Deel's Giles was extremely reserved, which I actually came to like later in the play: he seemed to be watching everyone through hooded eyes, so had my vote early on as "murderer most likely." Kasper's Mollie generated more heat with the young Christopher Wren.
And as Christopher Wren, Christopher Skinner was the real "find" in this production. He managed to convey a troubled alternative sexuality that was in no way camp or contrived. Hard to believe he's still a high school senior. His adrenalized portrayal injected energy and humor into every scene he was in, was a tremendous crowd pleaser, and made me jealous of a scarf. I can only hope to see more of Mr. Skinner in the future.
Mousetrap is not on my list of favorite plays, but I attend live theater to participate in something that is quite ephemeral: a connection between actor and audience that can only exist in that moment. I got that in spades with Christopher Skinner, so I came away quite happy with my theater going that evening. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Tuesday, February 18, 2003 ||
Let's talk about "chestnuts." These are shows that always bring in the audience, that always make money, and that "everyone" seems to be doing. Sometimes, a chestnut production can surprise you -- either the director finds an "angle" that works, or the cast imbues it with enough life and energy that you're reminded why it became a chestnut in the first place (Shakespeare Tavern's recent "Forum," for example). More often, you find yourself wondering why you're sitting through this particular show for the umpteenth time.|
Such is the case with Stage Door Player's recent production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap." Agatha Christie does not HAVE to be dry -- I can watch the movie of "Murder on the Orient Express" or, indeed, any of the David Suchet "Poirot" shows any number of times with equal pleasure -- they all acknowledge that the real pleasure of any Agatha Christie isn't figuring out "whodunnit," but relishing the interplay of the often 1-dimensional characters, and admiring the skill in assembling the puzzle. "Mousetrap" for me, though, has always been rather problematic -- these characters can be downright unpleasant, unless given some spark by a sensitive cast, and the "gimmick," once revealed, is a bit obvious, not one of the writer's cleverest.
The Stage Door production starts out promisingly. Director Barbara Cole starts the play with a lot of energy, beating the "blocking problems" of this difficult venue (audience-on-two-sides must be the most sadistic arrangement ever inflicted on a director). Cheryl Kaspar's Mollie and Christopher Skinner's Christopher share an instant rapport that builds expections for better stuff to come. Indeed, Pat Bell's Mrs. Boyle, Shawn Hale's Major Metcalf, and Mary Claire Klooster's Miss Casewell are always fun to watch (in spite of Ms. Klooster's bad hair and obvious age-range disconnect).
The problem starts when Matthew Patten walks on stage as Detective Sergeant Trotter. Though physically imposing (a problem in itself, because it telegraphs something that shouldn't be telegraphed), Mr. Patten chose to deliver every line in a dull monotone, finding a vague cockney(ish) accent about once every 300 words. He drains this show of energy like the a spark in the Hindenburg. Even the supporting cast loose their drive when they share the stage with him, reminding us of how unpleasant these characters can be. The result is an incredibly monotonous Act II, all the more disappointing because of how well the production started.
There will always be a place in the theatre for chestnuts, even this one. But a production of a chestnut has to leave its audience glad to revisit an old friend, or invite its audience to see it in a new way. The worst thing it can do is make its audience wish it never came.
--- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com) [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || Wounded ego (and not the one you'd think...) by Matthew J. Patten|
| "Those who can, do. Those who can't . . ." teach? Good Lord, no. They write self-serving, unhelpful, venomous reviews and post them on the Internet. |
Now, I am new to the Atlanta theatre scene and I don't want to shoot myself in the foot with an embittered response to a negative review, but I feel I have the right to defend the choices I made in my performance as Sgt. Trotter in "The Mousetrap."
First of all, Mr. Rudy makes it quite clear that he considers "The Mousetrap" one of Agatha Christie's moldier works. What he fails to address is that her stock cast of police officers tends to be decidedly on the dry and inscrutable side (an Englishman who keeps his emotions in check? Yes, I'm afraid it has been known to happen...). This is in the writing, and with a character such as Trotter who has to continually reiterate the -- quite honestly -- tedious facts of the case, yes, things can get a bit bogged down. The expository role can be a thankless one, and all the moreso when being judged harshly for things beyond one's control. A policemen on an official investigation (especially in a Christie classic) rarely gets the opportunity to do cartwheels across the stage -- either physically or verbally.
Which, of course, brings me to the surprisingly juvenile (and easy) attack on my "vague Cockney(ish) accent." The director and I agreed on following Christie's script suggestion of a "slight Cockney accent," seeing as how standard Cockney can get a bit unintelligible for a breezy night at the theatre. Sure, I could have gone the route of a marble-mouthed Cockney straight out of a Dickens novel, but then, I'd be receiving a nasty notice for entirely different reasons. Sometimes you just can't win.
And am I supposed to feel guiltily responsible for my "physically imposing" build, something completely beyond my control and which is usually considered something of an asset? That's akin to accusing someone of being "bald." Yes, all right. So? (And it telegraphs nothing)
One last and very crucial piece of information that may help to explain quite a bit. It has recently come to my attention that Mr. Rudy actually auditioned for and was not cast in the production in question (one wonders if perhaps Trotter was the very role he was considered for). This review of his seems to me to be a rather petty, tacky, and obvious attempt to soothe his injured actor's vanity.
| || A Few Points by Dedalus|
| First of all, I appreciate Mr. Patten's response. This forum is essentially pointless if it doesn't engender DIALOGUE, and is, in my experience, the only means I have seen in which artists can answer their critics. Mr. Patten raises a few points which call for some clarification of my original thoughts, and some which call for rebuttal.|
(1) I did not audition for this show. I was called to read for a character that needed to be cast after the original actor dropped out (a character I was totally unsuitable for). Connections were missed, and the part was recast before I could meet with the director. This certainly engendered no hard feelings on my part.
(2) On the dialect issue, Mr. Patten makes good points. What I find most convincing (when dealing with "hints of a dialect") is when it comes out in moments of anger, or elation, or cued by some out-of-the-ordinary emotional response. A Dialect of this nature is usually caused by a character who consciously is using a "learned" speech pattern (an immigrant who has been in his adopted country for a number of years, for example), someone who is consciously trying to better themselves (Eliza Doolittle, for an example), or someone who is pretending to be someone else (I thing Trotter falls into this category, but this is certainly debatable). In any case, the dialect needs to NOT sound as if the actor simply chose a word at random. This is what I thought Mr. Patten was doing and was the reason for my criticism.
(3) There is a very big difference between a character delivering a lot of dry expository material and an actor making a dry expository delivery. It is certainly very possible (and desirable) to make dry material interesting to an audience. In fact, it is essential. I have seen Trotters who were interesting and believable in spite of (and in one case BECAUSE of) the nature of the material without "doing cartwheels across the stage." This is an acting challenge -- one I know I often fail -- and one, which I believe, Mr. Patten didn't quite meet.
(4) The stature criticism was certainly not meant as a personal attack on Mr. Patten. It was merely an observation that it was obvious he was the killer long before it should have been FOR THAT REASON. It probably could have been solved by different lighting during the murder scene. It was merely a comment that physicality can matter -- you wouldn't, after all, want to cast a bald man as Samson (unless you were trying something a little off the wall).
Finally, I try in my reviews to be as objective as possible. I try to make my points based on criteria I've accumulated from over thirty years experience as a Actor, Director, and Designer. I do this because I like to write about what I see (I kept a journal of reviews before I moved to Atlanta) and to share my likes and dislikes. Sometimes, I fail and an artist takes what I say as a personal attack, as obviously happened here. For this I apologize. My intent is to point out what choices were made that did not work for me, and what did. It is after all, only my opinion, and I choose to do it in this forum in which responses can be publicly made. And for this reason, I choose to not hide behind a pseudonym. They are my opinions, and, since I post them publicly, I should be accountable for them.
Again, Mr. Patten, thanks for your response, and I apologize for writing in a manner you would take as a personal attack.
-- Brad Rudy
| || Correction by Matthew J. Patten|
| Unfortunately, I had been misinformed before writing my original response. Mr. Rudy did not, as he states, audition for "The Mousetrap." I should have written "was considered for" in the interests of accuracy (and not for the part of Trotter, as I assumed). By the time I received the correct information, it was too late. I apologize for my mistake.|
I appreciate Mr. Rudy's candor and clarification on several points. Obviously, several of these points are subjective and we will have to agree to disagree. I myself have seen several Trotters who overplayed their parts to the point of camp, and this was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Apparently, to some viewers I may have gone to the other extreme. Granted.
What I believe provoked such a sharp rebuttal from my camp was the fact that the review was somewhat harsh and almost personal in its assessment of my portrayal. No actor enjoys being singled out as "the spark in the Hindenburg." A little more constructive criticism and a little less witty disparaging may have been in line.
In closing, I wish to say that of course Mr. Rudy is entitled to his opinion and I appreciate his genuine effort to clear up several misunderstandings.
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)