Let’s start with a little mystery. The collected works of this author have sold more than 2 billion (only the Bible and Shakespeare are bigger). This person has been translated into 103 languages and one of her novels is the single largest selling (non-children’s) book of all time.
Not much of a mystery, right? Everyone knows it’s Dame Agatha Christie.
But here’s something you might not know. We think of her as a novelist, but she’s also the most commercially successful female playwright of all time. She boasts a number of milestones including having had three shows running simultaneously in London (a record not matched before or since) and for writing the longest continually running play in the world.
Yet with all those Christie plays out there, few of us have seen most of them.
One of the reasons might be that when a theater company produces Christie it’s almost always The Mousetrap. The West End production, which opened in 1952, has been running non-stop for a mind-numbing 27,500 performances.
The Mousetrap continues through October 21 at The Theatre Factory, Trafford. 412/374-9200. www.TheTheatreFactory.com
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve seen The Mousetrap, but when The Theatre Factory in Trafford announced it I figured, “what the hell, if the British can take it so can I.”
Considerably less well known is something called The Stranger. In 1924 Christie wrote a short story called Philomel Cottage which, eight years later, she turned into a play called The Stranger. Then in 1936 actor/writer Frank Vosper reworked that into the far more popular Love From a Stranger. Whichever version, the story’s basically the same: A young woman meets a charming young man – she dumps her fiancé, marries this new guy and moves to a remote cottage where she learns interesting things about his past. The Stranger was lost in archival material and only discovered in 2015 and now South Park Theatre presents one of the first-ever productions.
So this week, we’re big on Christie!
The one thing I’d like to say to Alyssa Bruno Walls, the director of Mousetrap and The Stranger’s director Vince Venture is this: Go faster, I’m begging you. It’s not just the rhythm which with your actors talk, it’s the lag time between cues. Pace is the fundamental element of any theatrical production anyway, with a mystery it’s even more essential – the last thing you want is the audience tapping their foot impatiently waiting for the production to catch up. Each show has a number of entertaining elements, all of which would blossom if you just stepped on the gas.
Because, God knows, it’s The Mousetrap and almost everyone has seen (if not have been in) it. This is the quintessential country-house-isolated-in-a-snow-storm thriller where one of the onstage characters is the murderer. I’m a Christie fan, certainly, and I salute the place this show occupies in the history books … but it’s not like it’s gotten any fresher over the last 64 years. The less time we have to examine it’s creaking joints, the better.
And speaking of creaky, it’s very easy to see why The Stranger was transfigured into Love From a Stranger; it’s more a sketch of a play than an actual thriller and the last half of it is so ludicrous it’s almost impossible not to laugh at the “surprise” reveal. The quicker South Park can get through the two short acts the better.
The Stranger continues through October 20 South Park Theatre, South Park.
This production features some broad playing, though Elizabeth Glyptis, Caitlin Skaff, Michael Barnett and Adam Wainwright hit the important notes. And Mary Randolph has fun playing two very different housekeepers.
There are enjoyable performances happening over at The Mousetrap, but the production I saw on opening night still hadn’t come together yet. Not everyone appeared to be in the same play, style-wise. Jeremy Kuharcik, as Trotter, gives a strong performance, but trips himself up at the end and Linda Stayer gets a lot of comedy miles out of the dour and unforgiving Mrs. Boyle.
Ted Hoover is the Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org