Murder Mysteries reenacted with the Theatre Department’s The Mousetrap

Theatre's stageThe Mousetrap cast in action | Photo Courtesy of FIU Theatre

Kaysea Suzana | Assistant Entertainment Director

FIU Theatre’s The Mousetrap production immerses audiences into a British 1950’s murder mystery.

Originally written by Agatha Christie, well known for her novels and scripts on mystery, the theatre’s first production of the 2023 season portrayed this chilling drama with its cast of student actors.

Lia Rodriguez, senior pursuing a BFA in performance, took the lead role of Mollie Ralston, the protagonist of the story.

“[Mollie] has a walking pattern close to mine. Direct and quick tempo. She’s very lady-like, eloquent and has a very beautiful dress. I think her character focuses on her clothing: very big on making impressions,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez emphasizes the parallel between her character and her own personality.

“We’re alike in many ways. She’s sweet, calm and optimistic. A very ‘half-glass full’ person,” Rodriguez said.

In addition, it’s this blend into the character that Rodriguez mentions was helpful in her growth as an actor.

“I’ve managed to approach confrontation in scenes in a more character-driven way. [Mollie] proposes: let’s calm down, let’s look at possibilities,” Rodriguez explained. 

Rodriguez and her co-stars, in order to properly emulate the British setting, had to be trained in ‘RP’, industry for received pronunciation. However, the accent posed an issue of volume for Rodriguez.

“In some ways, it has been easy to produce the accent. However, this is my first time acting out [Mollie] on the main stage, rather than the black box. I have to be more visible, louder and clearer to the audience,” Rodriguez explained.

The black box to which Rodriguez refers to is a huge rehearsal room where the audience and performers sit close, giving the impression of a more intimate production. 

Actors in FIU theatre black box
Audiences file into the black box for an after-party on the first night showing | Kaysea Suzana, PantherNOW

Senior pursuing a BA in stage management, Skylar Lewis-Shirley, commented on the process of organizing the play.

“I worked a lot with organizing and making sure the crew did what they needed to. I recorded a lot of the blocking as well,” said Lewis-Shirley.

In the process of doing the duties of a stage manager, Lewis-Shirley spoke on the experience of taking up the role for the first time.

“I had trouble trying to know when to record blocking. It wasn’t natural, but it wasn’t hard,” said Lewis-Shirley, referring to blocking as the placement of actors on the stage. 

A model of the set design with technical props | Kaysea Suzana, PantherNOW 

“A lot of cues are based on visual tells that actors do or when a certain line is said. After practice though, it had become routine.”

In fact, there was a challenge to address when it came to managing.

“At the end of act one, there’s a lot of light and sound cues back-to-back. I was very nervous to not mess it up,” Lewis-Shirley said.

Yet, the stage manager had a revelation in the midst of anxiety. 

“But, it was entirely my own issue to see the entire show on my shoulders. The production was a collaborative effort–I had to trust my team,” Lewis-Shirley explained.

Justin Packard, assistant professor and Director of The Mousetrap, mentioned the process of creating a rendition that was authentic to the original source material.

“When we started our meetings, all of our designers got together. Scenic, lighting, sound, etc. We discussed our impression of the script upon reading. Then we discussed the vision of that. I put my complete trust in my collaborators, and I couldn’t’ be more pleased,” Packard explained.

“Synergy is the word that comes to mind ; the idea that all these visions came together cohesively, is pretty rare, and I think it’s really successful in what the play looks like, sounds like, and seems like on the stage.” 

Packard elaborated on acting and how the actors interacted with the given environment.

“We didn’t rehearse with snow. Snow and other technical components were added later in the process. The actors were still getting used to interacting with snow and how it flows and drapes over the area,” said Packard.

“So they were constantly in the process of learning how to brush it off or how to interact with other technical elements.”

Relating back to the black box, Packard mentions that actors had to work with spaces marked with tape on the floor to imitate given props.

“We don’t have all of our set pieces until our technical rehearsals. We had tape represent where the doors were, where the staircases were. Actors can get acquainted with the spacing but not the props,” Packard said.

In terms of the rehearsal process, Packard identifies the different types and how that looked like for the actors.

“Preparatory rehearsals, artistic rehearsals, and then when the show was in good enough shape to add in technical elements, we would have tech rehearsals where every artistic and technical component is combined. A rigorous but fruitful time, where students practice for a whole weekend.”

Packard leaves a message for all enjoyers of the arts to consider. 

“I hope that what we provide for the audience is an opportunity to value and to understand.”

(Check out a video of the cast taking post-performance pictures below!)

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