If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d probably be writing for Netflix.
The prolific British writer wrote great works of literature, often in serial installments, but his stories were also commercially successful for their ability to entertain.
The same could be said for best-selling author Agatha Christie, queen of detective fiction.
With more than a billion copies of her books sold in English alone, there's no arguing the popularity of her work.
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That idea — of being purely entertained by something — came back to me Tuesday night as I glanced around The Elizabeth Wallace Theater at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
It was opening night of Christie’s “The Mousetrap” now running at the center and I wanted to see how my fellow audience members were reacting to the play so far.
A lot was happening on stage. There had been a murder. (Well, two if you count the opening scene in which a scream followed by a radio broadcast jump starts the action.)
But yes, there had been a murder and a detective, who had arrived on the scene earlier, had everyone assembled in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor — again.
“One of you is a killer,” he informs our cast.
It’s a pivotal scene, not only because it marks where doubt begins to creep in to those trapped at the snowed-in guest house, but it’s also where we as the audience become fully invested in what is happening on stage.
As I looked around the theater, I saw what appeared to be a range of expressions — from amusement to bewilderment to intrigue and interest.
In other words, people were entertained.
And well they should be. From start to finish, “The Mousetrap” was an entertaining night of theater.
Take for instance the verisimilitude of its cast, which was impressive by the way.
From the obnoxious Mrs. Boyle to the neurotic Christopher Wren, everyone seemed exactly right in who they were and played their roles to near perfection.
But what was even more impressive was how the actors began to shift, if only slightly for some, when doubt began to set in.
We were entertained as we watched the mannish Miss Casewell, played expertly by Annie Grier, become shaken and unnerved in the second half, after she quite literally swaggered into the hall in the opening scene.
We watched with fascination as our young couple and guest house owners Mollie and Giles Ralston, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Diane Wells and Ben Williamson, begin to turn on each other.
“You’re different all of a sudden,” says Giles to Mollie. “Perhaps I don’t really know you.”
And then you have Mr. Paravicini — the unexpected guest, the “man of mystery,” the outlier — played so wickedly good by Neil D’Astolfo that he almost stole the show.
In addition to the play’s acting, its stage and lighting were also quite good and costuming was authentic in feel.
While a murder mystery might not be for everyone, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who came away from the play Tuesday night feeling as though they had not been entertained in some way by the spectacle of it all, which brings us back to Dickens and Christie.
For these and other great masters of the yarn, it’s never enough to simply write well or craft a beautiful line or two. A good story has to be entertaining as well. Call it a mandate, if you will.
On Tuesday night, the cast and crew of “The Mousetrap” took that mandate and ran with it, never letting us down.
If You Go
"The Mousetrap" runs through Feb. 28 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island.
Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays.
Suitable for youth and adults.
Tickets are $47 with discounts for children.
For more information call 843-842-2787 or visit www.artshhi.com.