Citadel Theatre brings top technology to 'Mousetrap'
When Agatha Christie's murder mystery "The Mousetrap" opened in London in November 1952, stage technology was primitive by today's standards.
While the mystery has been running there continuously with traditional stagecraft, the upcoming production by Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest will bring state-of-the art video technology to heighten the suspense.
A bank of 60 LED screens provided by Pangaea Technologies will be used to display video showing action outside the main setting, a remote Victorian mansion in the English countryside.
"Seven strangers are trapped in a mansion that has been converted to a guesthouse during an unexpected late winter blizzard, just after the murder of a woman in the vicinity has been discovered," director Scott Westerman said.
"The snow has blocked all roads leading in or out of the house, so it is clear that the murderer is among the people trapped there. In traditional stagings of this play, the storm is shown on a painted backdrop and by dropping artificial snowflakes to the stage.
"With our video technology, we will be able to show the brutality of the blizzard outside the manor. If you're not fully conveying its oppressiveness, much of the tension of the situation will be lost. Our Jeff Award-nominated cinematographer Ian Merritt has created film of a frightening storm by taking stock footage and digitally adding elements to it.
"The storm will be seen through a window that is actually composed of 39 LED monitors. Ian's cinematography will be combined with sound effects created by Jeff Award-winning sound designer Petter Wahlbäck to bring the blizzard to life," Westerman said.
"The video technology allows us to do all sorts of things to suggest the environment outside of the house, as well as inside. We'll see actors outside the house on video that seamlessly come 'inside' to the action on stage, along with a variety of other surprising special effects that will clarify the action of the play," Westerman said.
"The monitors will be cleverly integrated into the set designed by Catalina Niño, who recently moved to Chicago from the Bay Area, where she designed sets for productions by the San Francisco Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse and other companies."
The incorporation of video on LED monitors is a technique that Westerman and Merritt used for Citadel's production of "The Christians" earlier this year. Merritt's cinematography for that play earned him a nomination in the "Artistic Specialization" category of the upcoming Jeff Awards, to be presented Oct. 2.
Merritt brings his extensive background as a filmmaker, ad agency creative producer/director, and commercial photographer to create the cinematography and special effects that will be seen in "The Mousetrap."
Westerman, a longtime Chicago actor and director who previously directed Citadel's "Sex With Strangers" and "The Christians," began working in film and video when the pandemic shut down stage productions.
He created the web series "Hamlet & Ophelia," which won Best Picture at the New York Film Awards, Best Web Series at the LA Film Awards, and Best Mobile Series at the 2022 New Media Film Festival. With the help of an individual artist grant from the Illinois Arts Council, he founded and is artistic director of Go To Productions, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that develops projects that explore the nexus between theater and film.
"It's exciting to take on this play, one of the best-known examples of the 'who-dunnit' or 'locked-room mystery,' that Christie made so popular, and approach with these new possibilities of stagecraft. We're so fortunate to have access to the LED monitors that will give us the ability to present this classic mystery in a new and even more suspenseful way," Westerman said.
"The Mousetrap" will open Friday, Sept. 15, following previews on Sept. 13 and 14, and play through Oct. 15. Citadel Theatre is in residence in the West Campus of the Lake Forest School District, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest.
For details or tickets, visit www.citadeltheatre.org or call (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.
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