Christie's 'Mousetrap' a major disappointment

"For all we know our guests could be criminals!" exclaims new lodge owner Giles (played by Sean McGowan) in "The Mousetrap." And oh, how right the poor man turns out to be.

Agatha Christie's murder mystery -- the longest running play in the history of the world -- gives us eight people stranded in an isolated home with no telephone, a raging blizzard outside and a murderer running amok. The script delivers an uncomplicated good time as we try to figure out who's going to be knocked off next and why and, best of all, how.

Theatre in the Valley's production contains two performances that rise to the show's demands. But otherwise, director Paula Wilkes is in over her head.

Wilkes demonstrates little knowledge of how to get the most out of amateur actors. Simply restraining them would improve the hamming here by half. Most of the characters are eccentric, but eccentric doesn't mean a one-note cartoonish idiot.

Neither does Wilkes show much finesse with basic blocking. Actors upstage each other so often that you may find yourself moaning whenever you realize someone is about to move.

The survivors are John Wennstrom, who manages subtlety and charm as the distinguished Major Metcalf, and Shane Cullum as Sergeant. Trotter. Cullum gives the detective a no-nonsense urgency, with his clipped speech, formal posture and unrelenting suspicious manner. Cullum looks college-age young, but carries himself with an authority that says, "You will not mess with me."

The sound effects on opening night were so consistently off that you wondered if they had ever been rehearsed. A phone rang when it should have been the doorbell. A radio continued to play seconds after it had been turned off. A radio stayed silent after it had been turned on. This is the sort of sloppiness that comedians make fun of in sketches about stereotypically inept community playhouses.

Designer Rick Bindhamer does well with an attractive, bare-bones set (complete with green-brick walls and an elegant window) built for easy traveling. (I saw the show at Sun City MacDonald Ranch.)

The production, though, adds up to a major disappointment, especially coming on the heels of Theatre in the Valley's excellent "Crimes of the Heart."

I hope Wilkes understands that directing is a craft that can be learned. Her shortcomings right now are, I'd guess, easily correctable by reading, observation and experimentation. She obviously enjoys theater. But does she respect it enough to work at improving her skills?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.