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FOCUS ON 21st CENTURY LEARNING

The Cappies is a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders. Student critics vie to be published in local media outlets by attending productions at other schools and writing critical reviews.

THROUGH THE CAPPIES

Theatre and journalism students are trained as critics and attend each others shows. Cappies students discuss and learn about theatre production. Throughout the year, newspapers publish the reviews with the students' bylines. At the end of the year, Cappies student critics decide who among their peer performers and technicians should be recognized for awards at the end of the season with glamour and excitement.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

Each participating school selects a show to be attended, and also forms a team of 3 to 9 student critics and 2 adult volunteers in the fall. Shows may have between 20 and 90 critics in attendance. Critic teams and mentors gather in a private discussion room to perform pre, mid, and post show discussions. The technical and performance aspects of the show are discussed with provided documentation from the host school.

After each show, with adult oversight, the mentors and program director select the best written reviews to be sent to local press outlets. All the reviews are also sent back to the performing school.

At the end of the season, a Tonys-like celebration occurs, where all nominated shows perform a cutting or the critics' choice song, and the final Cappies awards are presented with a trophy by regional critics and peers.

17Nov

Best written reviews for “The Mousetrap” performed by Justice High School in Falls Church, Virginia. Reviewed on November 12, 2021.

Bella LoBue

Stone Bridge High School

 

Running from the cold, running from the police, running from themselves. These are all themes embodied in the longest running play in the world. The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, as tackled by Justice High School, showcased the collision of eight dynamic characters from all walks of life, as they were snowed in together on the night after a murder. Tensions rose as they were trapped in a bed and breakfast together, forced to confront their deepest secrets and the ultimate question: "Who is the cat, and who is the mouse?"

 

The show brought a wave of emotion; it began lighthearted and tame, and by the end of Act One crashed into full blown terror. This shift was highlighted by the change in lights, directed by Benny Ward, from the blue of the wind and snow outside to the deep red of blood. Murder happened on a dimly lit stage, where the only illumination came from the burgundy background and the smoldering fireplace. Details like these set an eerie ambiance to the scenes while also putting the audience on edge.

 

The many moments of suspense and tension were broken up by the comedy of peculiar characters and circumstances. Actor Valeria Peterson as Mr. Paravicini stood out as a master of these moments. She perfectly exemplified the Agatha Christie "suspicious" archetype through her lively physicality, commanding stage presence, subtle yet memorable gestures and mannerisms, and a not-so-subtle Italian accent. She also contributed to the tension of several scenes with her silly and offhand remarks. When Mr. Paravicini threw himself into fits of unprompted laughter, the audience never failed to join in.

 

Another notable detail was Justice's remarkable attention to era. Set in 1950s Britain, the set, paint designed by Henry Blaine, was decorated in period wallpaper and mid-century furniture. However, the true transportation to England happened through the accents performed by the entire cast. Each actor mastered the regional dialect without faltering even for a moment.

 

One aspect that made the show particularly interesting to watch was the staging. While utilizing only one set with no scene changes, the cast created a "fun house" effect by fluidly moving in and out of hallways and doors. Each scene had a brilliant display of stage pictures with tableaux of the ensemble scattered throughout the living room set. The ensemble's physical performances added moments of comedy and drama at various points.

 

Character relationships were evident through the actors' physicality. This nuance was especially important for Mollie Ralston, played by Sara Kaufman, who interacted with each suspect. The variety in her body language and mannerisms made it obvious how she felt about each character. Kaufman and her counterpart Elijah Kassa, who played her husband Giles Ralston, used physical choices to demonstrate their relationship and chemistry. It was a true delight to be a fly on the wall, observing their dynamic rapport with one another.

 

This take of The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie is an example of what happens when a cast is trapped, without performing live, for too long. The company of Justice High School's play upheld the long-standing prestige of The Mousetrap by captivating the audience and producing a truly special take on a murder mystery classic.


Nhi Nguyen

Annandale High School

 

"For nobody else gave me a thrill, with all your faults, I love you still; it had to be you." As a velvety voice echoed through a pitch-black theatre, a single spotlight illuminated the figure of a satin-clad diva singing her way across the stage. Justice High School brought the quintessentially British spirit of 1950s England to a high school auditorium in their production of Agatha Christie's play, The Mousetrap.

 

The Mousetrap is a classic Christie murder mystery. A newlywed couple open a bed & breakfast, Monkswell Manor, in the wake of a recent murder in London. Once their final guest has arrived, they realize that they have been snowed in. After one of the guests is mysteriously murdered, it comes to their attention that not only are they snowed in, but they are trapped in the manor with a murderer. Greeted with a cast of eccentric and uniquely charming characters, it is almost easy to forget that amongst them lies someone with not so savory intentions.

 

Though widely acclaimed as a play, The Mousetrap started off as a short story written by Agatha Christie in the 1950s under the name of "Three Blind Mice", as a gift to Queen Mary. It is the longest-running play in the history of London's West End, having completed its 27,500th performance in 2018.

 

Mollie and Giles Ralston, the owners of the inn, were played by Sara Kaufman and Elijah Kassa, who displayed heartwarming chemistry each time they were together on stage. Mr. Paravicini, played by Valeria Peterson, interacted simultaneously with the audience and the other characters with his all-knowing omniscience and self-awareness. Peterson's exaggerated physicality and endearing Italian accent created a character that made the audience laugh every time he was on stage. Sergeant Trotter, as played by Daniel Azcarate, went from a diligent police officer determined to investigate the murder at Monkswell to a crazed police officer fed up with the lack of cooperation from the guests. He developed this role through meaningful changes in his tone and body language.

 

Justice High School's decision to include the element of a radio program added a layer of depth to the world they created on stage. Though never directly connected to the murder story, the radio hosts added suspense and foreshadowing, as well as some smooth promos. The Gumdrop Sisters, played by Fay Khateeb, Heulwen Rowlands, Mireille Kouagou, and Scarlett Naquin, helped further develop the 1950s atmosphere through their songs and provided appreciated interludes.

 

The technical elements of this play were clearly thought out. The lighting elements were designed by Elizabeth Cheek and Benny Ward, who also operated the light board. The lighting design helped seal the atmosphere of the 1950s - an example being the yellowed spotlights aging the scenes with the radio hosts. Benny's design of the red eye lights for the murder scene created an eerie atmosphere and dramatic tonal shift to accompany an equally dramatic development in the plot. Sound was designed and operated by Ketan Kane-- an imperative role in a time when mics are crucial in order to be heard beneath a mask. Additionally, Ketan controlled the sound effects such as the ringing of the telephone and the volume of the radio, details that added to the ambiance as a whole.

 

A classic that entertained just as much as it thrilled; a whirlwind of romance, grief, and murder. Add in a healthy dose of humor and you've got The Mousetrap. The people, ding, the music, ding, and the mystery, ding, of Monkswell Manor are sure to stay with audiences long after the curtain has been drawn.

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