Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE RAT TRAP (Mint Theatre Company)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 21, 2022

in Theater-New York

THIS RAT MAY BE A LITTLE SQUEAKY,
BUT IT’S WORTH GETTING CAUGHT IN ITS TRAP

Elizabeth Gray is perfect as Olive Lloyd-Kennedy, the kind insightful dry-witted writer who predicts disaster if her flatmate Sheila Brandreth (Sarin Monae West), a brilliant young author, marries Keld Maxwell (James Evans), an inferior but popular up-and-coming playwright in Alexander Lass’s conventional revival of Noel Coward’s The Rat Trap. “…Either you or Keld will have to sacrifice a certain amount of personality,” Olive warns Sheila, “no two people of your intellectual abilities could live together for long without getting on one another’s nerves… you are much the cleverer of the two, and because of that I prophesy that you will be the one to give in.” Sheila, being in love with Keld, disagrees. But that is exactly what happens.

Sarin Monae West and James Evans

Noël Coward’s The Rat Trap (written when he was 18) is very much a drawing room play and Mr. Lass stages it as such. Aided by Christian DeAngelis’s warm lighting, with cozy period furniture and costumes by Vicki Davis and Hunter Kaczorowski respectively, Mr. Lass creates a sense of nostalgia for a time and place that disappeared long before most of us were born and which, in all probability, only really ever existed in our minds. Here literati sip champagne, smoke cigarettes, and fire off witty, insightful banter while lounging in armchairs and divans. We are treated to some delightful performances; Cynthia Mace is quietly hilarious as Burrage, the Evans’s maid, whose deadpan delivery steals many of the scenes she is in; Ramzi Khalaf is memorable as Edmond Crowe, an impish bohemian poet and common-law husband to novelist Naomi Frith-Bassington (well-played by Heloise Lowenthal); and Mr. Evans satisfies as Sheila’s nervous, vain, narcissistic husband-child.

Heloise Lowenthal, Claire Saunders and Ramzi Khalaf

The only unfortunate casting choice is with the lead role of Sheila. I’m sure Ms. West is a fine actress, but in this production her entire performance feels affected; I do not believe she is a standout writer who spends her days agonizing over the details of imaginary characters, and, more importantly, I never believe she loves Keld. This undermines the entire show, including the character of Ruby Raymond (Claire Saunders), a showgirl who uses sex to advance her career in straight theater. Had Sheila been believable Ruby could have been made more alluring. But as is, Ms. Saunders plays Ruby as an avaricious and lascivious clown, which makes us question how both of the men in the play could be so attracted to her.

Elisabeth Gray and Sarin Monae West

The world Mr. Lass creates is pleasant but quaint. We’ve seen this type of show before, and have seen it stylized and parodied even more often. To that extent, and as sweet as it might be to wallow in the opium of nostalgia, the place feels a bit too familiar, and I would have preferred Mr. Lass to present a more personal — and therefore vital and relevant and new — take on Coward’s play. Certainly a typically elegant Mint Theater production, but it’s not what you’d expect from Coward, or the lead actress. Still, it’s worth a look, especially for die-hard Coward fans.

Cynthia Mace and Sarin Monae West

photos by Todd Cerveris

Sarin Monae West and James Evans

The Rat Trap
The Mint Theater Company
New York City Center Stage II, 131 W 55th St (between 6th & 7th avenues)
ends on December 10, 2022
for tickets, visit Mint

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