People are dying onstage in the Binda Theatre, and Brad Poer is responsible.
Poer, a Kellogg Community College professor and director of the college’s theatre productions, will make his fall directorial debut at the college tonight with the opening of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.”
The play is a murder-mystery as known in the industry for its twist ending as it is for being the longest running continuous play in history.
Speaking about the production backstage before a recent rehearsal, Poer offers few details about play beyond its basic setup: As a blizzard rages outside a stately English manor, a group of strangers are trapped inside with a murderer.
Complicating matters further is that no one actually knows who the murderer is, onstage or off.
“It’s easy to be spoiler-ific,” Poer says, praising the Scooby Doo-like quality of the set, which features enough doors that characters can leave through one and seamlessly re-emerge through any other, facilitating confusion for the characters and the audience as to who is where at what time.
Poer says the cast of eight – including six KCC students – each fall prey to the suspicions of the others, and hopefully the suspicions of the audience, at some point in the play, and he encourages theatregoers who don’t know the story to avoid using their smartphones to sate their curiosity during intermission.
“Our biggest challenge with the show is getting the pace and the intensity and the suspense up,” he says. “Everybody’s gonna have their own ideas about what happens, and then we get to roll the dice and find out whether we actually surprise people.”
A veteran of the regional theatre scene, Poer had been teaching at KCC for three or four years before assuming his current role heading up the college’s theatre program last winter. In that time he’s seen a lot of growth on the academic side, he says.
There were just six students in the combined Acting I and II class he taught simultaneously when he first started at KCC, he says, and this year the classes have been separated for the first time, with more than 20 students enrolled in Acting I and a dozen enrolled in Acting II.
Poer directed his first play at KCC – the spring musical “Lucky Stiff” – last semester, and while he directed a number of plays before that elsewhere, this is his first murder-mystery. It’s also his first time directing a cast that will be speaking almost entirely in British dialect.
While the characters aren’t necessarily caricatures, he says, they definitely fit models many in the audience will be familiar with.
“You’ve got the snooty, holier than thou rich British woman,” Poer says. “You’ve got the retired military guy, you’ve got the young lovers, you’ve got the flamboyant young man who’s a little bit off his head and a little crazy, and then you’ve got a couple of others who are more wildcards.”
Poer says the play is relatively family friendly – there are themes related to death, obviously, but no terror or gore to speak of – and is particularly appropriate for audiences given the time of year.
“We specifically wanted to do this one in the fall because it’s getting close to Halloween,” Poer says. “It definitely has a bit of the surprise, jump-in-your-seat kind of moments.”
“The Mousetrap” will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 20, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Tickets are $5 for students and senior citizens and $10 for members of the general public. They will be available at the door or can be reserved by calling 269-965-4154.
For more information about the theatre program at Kellogg Community College, visit www.kellogg.edu/performart/theatre/index.html.
Pictured above, Poer, offstage in the center of the bottom of the photo, directs the cast during a recent dress rehearsal for “The Mousetrap.”