Arts and Entertainment

WICA's Community Theater gets caught up in 'The Mousetrap'

Director Gail Liston, flanked by (from left) Scott Gabelein, Damien Cortez and Brian Plebanek, talks to the cast about “shaving a few minutes” off the timing during one of the final rehearsals for “The Mousetrap.” -
Director Gail Liston, flanked by (from left) Scott Gabelein, Damien Cortez and Brian Plebanek, talks to the cast about “shaving a few minutes” off the timing during one of the final rehearsals for “The Mousetrap.”
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The snow falls silently, steadily and swiftly outside Monskwell Manor, a former monastery converted into a Berkshire country house outside of London in 1944.

Five house guests carry their portmanteaus into the manor, where they are welcomed by proprietors Giles and Mollie Ralston. The travelers are eccentric characters: a strange foreign man, a young mannish woman, a wild-looking neurotic young man, a square-shouldered military man and an imposing woman of a certain age and of very bad temper.

It is not long after the last of the strangers arrive that the snow becomes impassable. Cut off by snowdrifts, the seven people are trapped together in the manor. They have never met before, and they are tight-lipped about themselves and their backgrounds. The radio tells of a murder in London -- a woman strangled. And then there is another murder, amongst the group.

Cut off from civilization, they have only their wits -- and a stolid British policeman who arrives on skis -- to save them from the unidentified murderer in their midst.

Agatha Christie's play, "The Mousetrap," has been opening this way for 50 years. First performed at the Ambassador Theater in London on Nov. 25, 1952, "The Mousetrap" moved in 1974 (over the weekend, so no productions were missed) to St. Martin's Theatre in London's West End. It is the longest continuously running play in history.

It will debut at the Whidbey Island Center of the Arts on Valentine's Day, playing weekends Feb. 14-22 and ending, appropriately, with two performances during Langley's Mystery Weekend.

"WICA's Community Theater hadn't yet done a non-American play," said Deana Duncan, WICA production director. "A murder mystery was perfect with all the people coming for Mystery Weekend. And ''The Mousetrap" has such a good plot."

It is classic Christie. It also has "humor, suspense, a lot of entrances and exits and big, over-the-top characters," said director Gail Liston.

Liston, who has been working in theater for nearly 30 years, is currently teaching at Skagit Valley College's Whidbey campus. She is also owner with her husband, Brian Plebanek, (also in the play) of Vino Amore wine shop in Freeland. She has directed productions including "The King and I," "Richard III" and "The Dining Room."

"The musical was the most challenging," Liston said. "This is much easier."

It does, however, require a "dialect," aka a British accent. Karen Conner, a native speaker and one of Liston's college students, has acted as consultant with the cast, even providing tapes and notes on how to improve the accent.

"They've been coming along very well," Liston said.

Some of the cast members will be familiar faces to the audience.

Deana Duncan, as Monkswell Manor proprietor Mollie Ralston, has acted in WICA's productions of "Telemachus Clay" and "Bell, Book, and Candle" and in Island Theatre's "Moon Over Buffalo." Kirk Prindle, in the role of Major Metcalf, has been seen on Whidbey in "The Miracle Worker," The Cemetary Club," Glengarry Glen Ross" and as Mr. Mushnik in "Little Shop of Horrors."

Maureen Masterson is well-known to Whidbey theatergoers after performances in "Moon Over Buffalo" and "Mrs. California," as well as "The Dining Room," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Club Ded" and others.

And Scott Gabelein, the intrepid British Sergeant Trotter, returns to the WICA stage after having played "the dumb blonde" in Island Theatre's production of "Moon Over Buffalo." He also has worked with Oak Harbor's Whidbey Playhouse in "Dial 'M for Murder" and "Brigadoon."

On the other end of the scale, co-proprietor Giles Ralston is played by Craig Sobottka, whose most recent honor was a best actor award for his role in "The Importance of Being Earnest" with his eighth-grade drama club. He also acted in Homer's "Odyssey" in the 11th grade. It took 23 years before his return to the stage.

Another newcomer, the youngest in the cast, is Damien Cortez, the "wild-looking, neurotic young man" Christopher Wren. He played high school leads in Christie's "Ten Little Indians" and "Babes in Arms," but this is his first experience in community theater.

Terry Ann Daugherty, in the role of Miss Casewell, is new to South Whidbey but has a long list of acting credentials. She was cast in several lead roles on stage in California and in television and films, including "The Garry Shandling Show" and "Divorce Court."

Finally, as Mr. Paravincini, Brian Plebanek is making his Whidbey Island acting debut after performing only in his high school years.

"It's a mix," Liston said. "Our youngest cast member is 21, our oldest won't say. Some are quite experienced, others haven't acted since high school. I really appreciate the amount of effort they have all put into the show."

With so many equally important characters, the cast is actually "an ensemble" she said. "They're all equally contributing, feeding off each other energywise. It's been really rewarding watching the actors develop their unique characters. They find the humor in their parts and bring out their idiosyncrasies."

The set of "The Mousetrap" is vintage post-war English countryside: comfortable chairs, solid furnishings, set around the hearth of a large fireplace.

"Whidbey Antiques helped us tremendously with the set," Duncan said. "They loaned pieces to us without a fee, whatever we needed. We're really grateful."

The suspense, humor and characterizations will make a very entertaining experience, Liston said.

"The audience will love it."

Speaking of love, "The Mousetrap" will open Friday, on Valentine's Day.

A post-show reception catered by the Star Bistro will be Valentine themed, making it "a perfect date night," Duncan said.

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