The only question is which of the seven survivors did it.
That sets the stage for the Theatre Guild’s second to last production of its 85th season. The Guild will present Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “The Mousetrap” beginning October 4, playing for two weekends at the VFW on Andrew Johnson Highway.
The story of “The Mousetrap” is a classic among mystery lovers - eight relative strangers who become trapped at a bed and breakfast during a blizzard. One of the eight gets murdered and the other seven must survive and determine whom the murderer could be before he or she strikes again. Written by the legendary Dame Agatha Christie, “The Mousetrap” debuted in London and is the longest running show in the world. Celebrating its 67th anniversary, “The Mousetrap” has become the staple for which all other murder mysteries are based.
To helm the production, the Guild has brought in guest director Anthony Nelson, who has been directing community theater projects all over the country and abroad, for the last 20 years.
Nelson said after six and a half year run as artistic director with a community theater group in North Texas, he wanted to spread his wings.
“The thing I really enjoy about free-lancing in theatre is getting to know different communities,” he said.
Nelson said he’s excited to work on the classic whodunit, a work which inspired dozens of other works and the classic board game Clue.
“It’s such a tightly written script, such a tighty written whodunit,” he said.
Nelson said, not knowing the area, he was worried about the casting process but is pleased with the ensemble cast of Ashley Cunningham, Emily Livesay, Chris Wylie, Teresa Ridgeway, Katrina Bosse, Julie Owen, Robert Trinkline, and Steve Parella.
“They’re all doing a great job. We’ve had a nice time exploring this writing, it’s not just a simple who done it. There’s a lot of ground covered in this play. There’s a lot to the script,” he said. “They’re talking about some really high level things in this They’re all doing great – they’re all just bringing their A game.
“Ashely Cunningham, he has the largest load in terms of lines. Emily Livesay plays a pivotal role, she has a lot of emotion to go through. Every one of these characters has a huge a lot of work.”
Nelson said the casting concerns were not specific to Morristown and that in every play those issues tend to get worked out.
He quoted an old mentor who liked to say God loves community theater.
“You’re always worried about being able to cast a show, no matter where you are. When you’re doing community theater it really does come down to is the community willing to be involved,” he said. “I’ve directed over 50 productions and God has always put the right actor in the room.”
A native of Iowa, Nelson was 19 when he got involved with a theatre company in Phoenix, Arizona before enrolling at the University of Southern California.
A master’s from the University of Iowa followed. Over the years, he’s worked all over the country. He said Morristown is probably the smallest community in which he has worked.
Something of a theater nomad, he’s heading to Colorado after “The Mousetrap.”
“ I do enjoy meeting new people, getting to know new communities … there’s a little bit of stress in the travel and living out of a suitcase,” he said. “Right now, it’s on to the next. I put my stuff in storage in Texas and will spend the rest of the year on the road.”
But before hitting the road again, there’s murder afoot and a murderer to catch and while Nelson is happy for word of mouth to help promote the play, he did ask one favor of the patrons: No spoilers please.
Even though “The Mousetrap” is a classic, not everyone knows who the killer is. Nelson hopes the audience members in the know will help keep the secret for those who don’t.
“One of the traditions of doing ‘The Mousetrap’ is the director give a curtain speech where we do ask the audience to keep the secrets,” he said, adding the play is not only a murder mystery, there’s some comedy in it as well.
“There’s something for everyone in it,” he said. “Come and support your local theatre. The more people who attend the more shows they get to do. The Morristown Theatre Guild has been around for 84 years. That’s something that should be screamed from the mountain tops – that’s a pretty amazing thing for a group to do. It’s their community theatre and community theatre can’t survie without the support of the community.”
Stage Managed by Laura Gula, with costumes designed by Heather Livesay, and set, lights, and sound designed by David Horton, “The Mousetrap” promises to be a deadly entertaining night of theatre.
Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved online at www.theatreguildinc.org or by calling 423-586-9260. Prices are $18 general admission, $12 for students, and $15 for seniors. The production runs Oct. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.