Whodunit at Washougal High School

Panther Players will perform Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’

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Washougal High School students Emmy Campen (left) and Shane Fussell rehearse a scene from "The Mousetrap" at the school's theater on April 26.

About six years ago, Washougal High senior Tori Corkum attended a community theater production of “The Mousetrap” in Portland and became enamored with the play’s visual style and “whodunit” dramatic structure.

“I loved the whole look of the show,” said Corkum. “They did a fantastic job. If you’ve seen it once, that takes away a little bit of the suspense. But for me, not seeing it (beforehand), it was like, ‘Whoa, that was awesome.'”

Corkum’s great-aunt played the role of Mrs. Boyle in that production. This weekend, Corkum will portray the same character in the Washougal High School Panther Players’ performances of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery.

The performances will be held 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, at the Washougal High theater.

Members of the Panther Players, an audition-only class for individuals with advanced acting skills and leadership ability, said they chose “The Mousetrap” because they wanted to do something markedly different from what they’d done in the past.

“We’ve had a history of doing more comedic pieces, and (we) felt we could do something more unique with a more dramatic piece,” said junior Shane Fussell, who plays the role of Giles Ralston.

The story relies heavily on misdirection, character development, interaction and dialogue. As the play goes along, the characters attempt to deduct the identity of a murderer while the audience does the same thing.

The play is also famous for its twist ending.

“It’s a classic locked-room mystery,” said Washougal High drama teacher Kelly Gregersen. “The characters don’t get to hide behind action or big set pieces or moving things. They’re all stuck in one place. It’s sold by the performances.”

Character motivation is critical in “The Mousetrap.” Corkum has been fascinated by the process of discovering the reason her character has been turned into, in her words, “a crotchety old British woman who just doesn’t give a crap at all.”

“I think it’s a fun challenge,” she said. “A lot of it’s up to interpretation. We don’t know a lot about our characters, so it’s up to us to bring that life to them. Along the way (we learn) how to tap into different personalities and how to see things through the eyes of someone else. You can’t bring your own perspective into this.”

Most of the characters have a large amount of lines, which have presented a challenge for the actors, who have struggled at times to find enough time to rehearse due to conflicting schedules.

But they’ve become fascinated by Christie’s language, as well as the murder mystery genre, in the midst of those challenges.

“I like that the dialogue is a lot more realistic,” Fussell said. “The majority of the plays that I’ve done here (have required a) really big type of acting, almost Shakespearean acting, while this is very grounded and very realistic. That’s in part (due) to Agatha Christie’s writing. She’s a really good writer and she knows how to write natural dialogue.”

The play will be performed with minimal set and costume pieces in a black-box setting.

“The audience is close to the actors and the action,” Gregersen said. “It works well with that immediacy. The audience doesn’t get the luxury of being 50 feet away and disengaging.”

Corkum has been interested in theater ever since attending a Washougal High production of “Dracula” when she was 8 years old. After graduation Corkum plans to study journalism at Western Washington University, and hopes to get involved in the drama department.

Fussell joined the Washougal High drama department as a freshman and said he’s put aside his previous plan of becoming an aeronautical engineer to pursue an acting career.

“I love the idea of escapism,” he said. “When you’re on the stage, you’re someone else. You’re so in the moment you’re not worried about what happened at home, about what happened at school.”

“It’s a good way to pull yourself out of reality, and at times you can even use that skill to look at your life from a different perspective and it helps you round it out a bit better,” Fussell said.