Highland’s The Mousetrap is Mysterious Fun for Halloween

mousetrap

I recently had the opportunity of seeing a murder mystery by Agatha Christie—perfect for the Halloween season! The performance of Mousetrap took place at Highland Community Center in Highland, Utah. I wondered what I was going to encounter when I entered a room that was unlike theaters that I am used to. With a small corner stage and chairs that had to be set up, I was dubious. But I was pleasantly proven that my worries were unnecessary.

Mousetrap takes place at a guesthouse in England in the 1950s. The Ralstons (Nicole Allen and Jake Allen), a newly married couple, have just opened the guesthouse, their first guests arrive, and as luck would have it they are all snowed in. Unluckily, they learn that a murder has taken place in London, and the killer is one of them. Clues roll forth as the audience and the characters try to figure out “whodunit” before one of them becomes the next victim.

The entire cast did a wonderful job in portraying their characters, my personal favorites being Christopher Wren (Tanner Spear) and Mrs. Boyle (Kathy Castleton.)  Some faltering with British accents and a few botched lines—understandable with opening night jitters—did not detract from each character’s personality coming through. Their comedic timing was excellent—I was surprised to find myself laughing as much as I did in a play about murder, but it was a good, even balance. This play requires much from the actors beyond their dialogue, as much of the clues were found in their facial expressions and body language. They did not disappoint. I found myself constantly looking from character to character, trying to see what each actor was doing to see if I could piece together the mystery. I could tell that director Gabriel Spencer helped his actors create believable characters. It’s easy to over-act in a mystery like this.

With this tiny venue, I was especially impressed with the set the cast and crew created. It transformed the room and looked as I would expect a cozy room in a hotel in the 1950s. There were a couple of glitches with the sound and a set piece, but that was easily forgotten as the cast made use of a window as well as their various props. The costuming was ideal for the time period, and fit the characters’ personalities. And the lighting was well done, showing different times in the day and playing its own role, which worked quite well.

Even with a couple of hiccups, I greatly enjoyed this production. The cast worked very well together. The atmosphere with the stage and close audience made me feel a part of the production—a nice touch when I was also trying to solve the mystery. I highly recommend the play to anyone looking for a good mystery, a chance to laugh, and some Halloween-themed entertainment.

It runs October 27-29 7:30 pm, with a special 10:00 performance on Halloween with the murderer revealed at midnight.

Hughland Community Center 5378 w. 10400 n. Highland 84003

$8.00-$10.00

 

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GSC’s The Revenger’s Tragedy is Bloody Good Fun

revengers

By Jennifer Mustoe and Craig Mustoe

We have been to many Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s excellent productions, including the gore-filled Halloween shows, so we knew to expect a great show, filled with lots of energy, movement, interesting characters, and understandable dialogue and plots. (Shakespeare can be confusing.) But we were able to take a friend who’d never seen a GSC production, so it was fun to their current Halloween offering, The Revenger’s Tragedy, through her eyes. This friend doesn’t see many plays, so I was a little worried she’d be bored, confused, or cold. The show is outside at Provo’s Castle Amphitheater, so the fall show can be chilly. None of these issues arose. Our friend loved the show, was thoroughly entertained, followed the plot well and the weather was mild.

The beginning of the show featured a local band, The Echo Era, that actually performed from the stage. They were great–sort of a grungy, bluesy, jazzy rock sound that created an edge before the show. I did find it rather unfortunate that some people got up and left after the band played and didn’t stay for the show. Both acts have equal entertainment value.

GSC has jazzed up its stage a bit, though it’s always been a charming rendition of what we imagine they had in Shakespeare’s day–a stage that can be set up and pulled down (struck) by the players themselves. (And in fact, I know the players did just this and constructed and then tore down the stage so GSC could perform a different piece at UVU recently.) The multi-leveled space was great and gave many options for entrances and exits and action on more than one level. The “set” is completely bare–no set pieces: chairs, couches, tables and so forth. We audience members fill in the blanks. And this is what the GSC players explain. They have no director–it’s a collaborative effort; They create their own costumes; They come memorized to rehearsal and have only 40 hours of rehearsal at all. This is meant to duplicate the experience as it was in Shakespeare’s time. And because back then, all roles were played by men, there were some characters that were played by women for male roles and vice versa. (Yes, GSC has modernized that bit of casting!)

The Revenger’s Tragedy is not, in fact, a Shakespeare play, but written by one of his contemporaries: Thomas Middleton. It takes place in Italy and is, as you can imagine, about revenge. There are multiple bad guys in this show and truth to tell, there are few characters that are completely without guile. Perfect for a Halloween show.

The plot is rather simple. There’s this Duke (played with cunning and darkness by Joel Applegate) who sleeps with everyone, consensually  and otherwise, and kills a woman who won’t sleep with him. Her husband, Vindici, played wonderfully by Mark Oram, exacts revenge. Oram has a difficult role–he needs to be sympathetic enough that when he starts doing really horrible things, we root for him still. Oram visited with audience members before the show, introducing us to his “wife”–a skull. So yes, we did see his side of things. Mostly. Vindici colludes with brother Hippolito (played winningly by Sam Portlock) to get back at the Duke and his super creepy son Lusurioso, played by remarkable actor Daniel Fenton Anderson, who brings to every role he plays such an amazing quality of truth, I’m glad I know Anderson to be a really nice guy. During this show, my stomach turned at his oily lechery. Of course, I mean this in the best way possible. Davey Morrison Dillard and Tyler Harris play the Duke’s second and third sons Ambitioso (an ambitious and ruthless chap) and Supervacuo (a total goofball) and provide some comic relief in this rather dark, gruesome play. I’ve seen Dillard and Harris work together many times and their synergy and timing really is perfection. I wished they had more stage time. Topher Rasmusson plays Spurio, the Duke’s bastard son and as with so many bastard sons in famous plays, is a resentful jerk and starts an affair with his stepmother, the Duchess played by Clarrisa Knotts. This couple is so revolting, each using the other for their own gain and a kick to their egos, and these actors play this out very believably. I felt the pain behind this couple’s affair and though it made me sad, I also felt a righteous disgust regarding these two, so Rasumsson and Knotts did their job well.

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The plot is simple, but what happens onstage, you really need to go see so I’m not going to give details. Blood is spilled (and then some), entrails are pulled from a body (and it isn’t gross as much as funny), and evil is displayed thickly and throughout the show. The groundlings who stand in front of the stage rather than sitting (just as they had in Shakespeare’s time) got sprayed with blood, as is common at GSC Halloween shows. (So note: if you are buying a groundling ticket, dress appropriately, though the “blood” does wash out, we’re told.)

Throughout the show, a band plays background music, also a nod to Shakespeare’s era and it is really great to have that accentuating the highs and lows in the show. This is one of the best aspects of a great theater company–their ability to include music throughout the production.

The only “problems” I saw with this show is that it was not well-attended. I attribute this to it being BYU’s Homecoming weekend and the typical GSC-goers may have been otherwise occupied. But I am sincerely hoping that in the next shows, The Revenger’s Tragedy has huge crowds. It is well worth seeing. However, I wouldn’t bring kids–though the gore isn’t too gross, there is a lot of sexual discussion, owing to the fact that half the males in the cast are rapists and lechers. This does tend to put sexual violence at the forefront of a plot. Also, the Castle Amphitheater is a GORGEOUS space, but it is made of stone. Bring something soft to sit on and a blanket to keep warm. Check the weather–if it’s cold, dress for it. The show is almost two hours long, but it doesn’t seem like it. It is fun and creepy from the first to the last.

The Revenger’s Tragedy, Castle Amphitheatre (above the State Hospital), 1300 East Center Street, Provo, UT (drive up the hill and park by the lawn)

Tickets: $8.00 for Groundlings, $13.00 for seats if purchased online, $15.00 at the door. Mon, Fri, Sat until 10.31.16 7:30 PM.

Extra Halloween late show on 10.29.16 11:30 PM (this is a super fun show!)

Grassroots Shakespeare Company

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Put Your Shoes on and Run to the Covey’s The 39 Steps

39s

By Jennifer Mustoe and Mary Garlitz

I see a lot of shows, so when I am planning on seeing a show twice, that’s big. I will be taking everyone I can to go see The Covey’s The 39 Steps again before this delightful show’s run is over. I’ve already blabbed all over Facebook to all my cyber friends to get with it and go see this show. And I’m saying it to my Front Row Reviewers Utah people, too.

The 39 Steps is a comedy using plots and characters from Alfred Hitchcock’s work. I didn’t know it was a comedy when I decided to see it, though. So at the beginning, when Richard Hannay, the lead in the show (handsome, curly hair, piercing blue eyes–see the show and you’ll see why I say this) picks up the phone and it still rings, I thought, oh my gosh. The tech person isn’t very good. In the next few minutes, I got it. This is a comedy! And that was supposed to happen! Gotcha!

Eric Geels plays Hannay–the handsome lead–and is the only actor who remains the same character throughout. Geels is a brilliant comedic actor with great timing, excellent nuance and great physicality. The rest of the small, remarkably talented cast are: Clara Richardson, who plays The Females In The Play–all of them a romantic lead for Hannay in the various settings. Richardson uses accents and mannerisms and movement to be Annabella Schmidt (German) and Pamela (Scottish) and Margaret (English.) (These three accents (and more?) are used throughout the play by all players.) Jeremy Showgren and Caitlin Young (also the costumer) play ALL the other characters, and they are many. When I go to the show again, I’m going to count how many each play, but it is a ton. These two actors are wonderful–playing each different character so believably that if you shut your eyes, you’d swear there were way more actors up there. And they change enough with spot on acting skills that they really bring it. Really.

The show has so many fun, clever ways to show the different vignettes, I couldn’t go into even half of them. But let me give you one that can be explained easily. At one point, Hannay is running away from the bad guys and starts running like Jimmy Stewart does in North By Northwest. If you remember that movie, Stewart is being chased by and shot at by a maniac in a bi-plane. In The 39 Steps, the “plane” is a wooden model let down on a string from the ceiling in the Brinton Black Box Theater. Geels is running with big arms and slow mo steps, then suddenly breaks character, walks over to the plane, faces it toward him and then goes back to slow mo running. Absolutely hilarious!

There are dozens of these fun bits with actors changing accents, costume pieces, hats and characters throughout the show. Director David Hanson keeps the production amazingly tight, fast, and funny using the small stage effectively and his actors brilliantly.

I would recommend this show to anyone, but would caution about bringing kids under 8 or 10, mostly because it’s a little long. And you don’t have to be a big Hitchcock fan to laugh your head off in this show, but if you are familiar with his work, you will find yourself waiting for the next movie to be represented. (Mary said, “I wonder how they’ll show The Birds.” And the next bit showed them in a super funny, clever way.)

The only thing I’ll say is a lot of the bits seem to favor stage right, so when you buy your tickets, ask for seats either in the middle section or on the right. Our seats were on the left and we missed some of the action and facial expressions because the actors were fully facing away from us. But promise me you’ll go see this show.

You’re welcome.

The 39 Steps plays Thurs, Fri, Sat and Monday at 7:30 PM $14-$16 until October 29th.

The Covey Center for the Arts 425 W Center St  Provo, UT 84601

Main Office: (801) 852-7007  Box Office: (801) 852-7007