The 2018 Sitka High School Theater production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” includes a cast of eccentric characters and a murderer who whistles nursery rhymes. And it’s not just a question of “whodunit.” The future of Sitka High’s theater program is uncertain too. KCAW’s Katherine Rose reports.
A murder, a snowstorm, and party of unusual characters. In Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” everyone’s a suspect.
“Everyone is guilty of something, and it becomes very obvious. It could be any one of them,” says Sitka High teacher Keriann Gilson. She played Mollie Ralston in her high school production of The Mousetrap. Now she’s in the director’s chair, and has a soft spot for a good Agatha Christie mystery. Christie wrote the play for London’s West End in the 1940s.
“She was known as the queen of crime,” Gilson says. “I think every single one of her plays and books that I’ve ever read has always had that really good twist ending where it comes out of nowhere and it hits you in the face like woah.”
The Mousetrap begins with a murder. Mollie Ralston, played by Senior Quinlyn Holder, hears news of this on the radio. She and her husband Giles have just opened a guest house at Monkswell Manor. Christie’s version was set in the English countryside, but Gilson set her cast at a bed and breakfast in Seattle.
“They have all of these people coming, it’s the very first time, and they’re so excited. One by one these people show up, and of course there’s a snowstorm.”
They’re all snowed in when a detective shows up, on skis no less, to tell them that the murderer may be among them.
I spoke with a few of the suspects.
Senior Bran Carlo plays Giles Ralston. He’s been performing since the 5th grade, though he did have a brief role in Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a young cub.
“I played Little Bear, of course,” Carlo says. “That really launched my whole acting career.”
He’s played sword eaters, crazy scientists, he became a DD&F state champion this year performing a comedic monologue as Batman. But Carlo says that that Giles may be his most challenging character yet.
“He’s a real person. He’s not over-exaggerated, he’s not dramatic,” Carlo says. “Those are the roles I’m used to playing. It’s actually pretty hard for me to play a role like Giles.”
I asked Carlo the tough question. Is he the murderer? He pauses for a second, then says “I’m gonna kill that stage.”
Then there’s the brash Miss Casewell, played by senior Tyler Garrity.
“In the script, Miss Casewell is supposed to be a very manly character with a deep voice,” Garrity says. “And my director was like, you’re not pulling off manly. *Laughs* So I kinda had to find a new character for her. She’s sarcastic and rude, very confident about herself. Fights back against the detective.”
Like Miss Casewell’s evolution, Garrity says she gained strength from theater arts.
“Theater kids can be so wonderfully accepting,” Garrity says. “You grow this family just by being in the same cast. Just gaining all of the friends that are more like family to me, and the confidence I’ve gained.”
Gilson says she sees this kind of transformation in her many of her students.
“I think the biggest thing students gain from theater in general is self confidence. And,” she pauses. “Sorry. I get really emotional when I talk about this because it’s a huge part of my life.”
And while Gilson and the students work to deliver a strong performance this weekend, there’s an air of uncertainty about next year. Her position, teaching theater and language arts at Sitka High was cut from the FY2019 budget.
“The future of the theater at the high school is kind of up in the air right now,” she says. “With my position being cut there is no one that will be taking over theater.”
Gilson hopes the community will come out to support high school theater arts, as do students like Garrity. She’s worried.
“Without theater I don’t know if my transition to Sitka would have been as easy,” Garrity says. “I really hope they find a way to bring it back.”
But the show must go on. And there’s a tradition about Christie’s twist endings, the original spoiler alert. Gilson says at the end of every performance, an actor will come on stage and say something like:
“Please keep the mystery of the mousetrap in your hearts. It’s just a way of saying ‘Don’t tell the ending. Do not spoil it.’
And true to tradition, I won’t spoil the ending. Mainly because I couldn’t figure out “whodunit.”