Q: Miles Merbinoe, the protagonist of Kill a Better Mousetrap, has a love-hate relationship with the work of Agatha Christie, of which he is obviously a scholar. What is your relationship with Agatha Christie's works, and the detective fiction genre?
A. The pure puzzle plot detective story-- the type of story for which Agatha Christie was famous-- is one of my key passions, and Dame Agatha has been a major influence on my life since childhood. I do think she was fully deserving of her incredible popularity; in my opinion, only John Dickson Carr ever rivaled her for sheer ingenuity (and I consider Christie significantly easier to read than Carr-- which for me explains the disparity in their respective popularity and fame). That said, Miles Merbinoe's views on her works are pretty much merely an exaggeration of my own, and I consider Christie a much better novelist than a playwright. Furthermore, quite frankly, The Mousetrap is not even among her better plays. So, while I don't despise it as Merbinoe does, I do regard it one of her weaker works-- distinctly mediocre if not terrible-- and its tremendous success and endurance is indeed a greater mystery than any found in its own plot.
Q: Does writing comedy come naturally for you? Some playwrights find that very difficult.
A. Many of my personal heroes are the great '20's humorists of the Algonquin Round Table (Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, etc...), but while I'd love to think that some of their wit has rubbed off on me through reading their works, I tend to doubt it works that way. I wouldn't consider humor my forté; plot mechanics-- not as key to this particular play-- are generally my strongest suit. Still, levity does come more easily to me than gravity, and I'm undoubtedly more ready with a flippant quip than a dramatic or profound statement.
Q: You said you wrote much of this play while riding OCTA buses. Could you explain how that happened? Did you get the idea for the play during one of those rides?
A. I'm not sure exactly when (or where) the idea for the play first occurred to me... it had been percolating in my head for a some time, based on the unique, ironic history of The Mousetrap. For a while, I considered it as a possible basis for a comedy whodunit (like my other plays) but then realized it was much better suited to a character comedy ABOUT whodunits. As for the bus riding/writing thing, a few years ago I gave up on car ownership-- partially for economic reasons, partially out of pure eccentricity. Despite the many disadvantages of a bus-riding lifestyle, it does allow for a lot of time to get personal work done in transit. I wrote Kill A Better Mousetrap almost entirely on my iPhone 4 in bits and pieces on trips to and from work at Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. Cutting, pasting, emailing bits of script to myself... I wouldn't say it's necessarily the best way to write, but it worked for me this time. I really can't say how or if it affected the final product. But now I have an iPhone 6, so I suppose my upcoming plays should be even better!
Q: How do you think your acting background has helped you as a playwright? This script has four really juicy roles.
A. Well, it may be a superficial approach to characterization, but I find myself saying the lines out loud, as if I were playing the roles. These makeshift characterizations are often based on favorite character actors from 1930's movies (I do a lot of impressions). When I find a line awkward or uncomfortable to say, I make changes (it doesn't hurt that the central character in this play is an urban neurotic, as am I!). So yes, I would say that for me playwriting definitely involves my acting background. Of course, this method occasionally results in some funny reactions from fellow OCTA commuters... but then again, a lot of bus passengers talk to themselves, anyway!
Q: Within the last three years, Kill a Better Mousetrap has been produced at the Hollywood Fringe, in Anaheim, Huntington Beach, and in Australia. It seems to ring the right bell with a lot of people, and you have also done a good job marketing it. How do you market a good play? That is a mystery to many playwrights.
A. Ha! That's a very different perspective-- I don't think I've done a very good job of marketing it at all! I do have a website for it, and I try to talk it up all I can, but marketing is clearly a special talent in itself... one I don't happen to possess! The Australia production was really a lucky fluke-- the producers in Melbourne read a review of the show on an internet legal blog (!) and contacted me regarding performance rights. I did take the pro-active step of traveling last year to the International Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay, England, to spread the word about the play... preaching to the choir, so to speak. We had a reading of it there, and the response to the show from Christie fans has been very positive. But I can't see that my UK publicity junket has led directly to anything else... so I must say that marketing is still as much a mystery to me as to anyone.
Scott K. Ratner's Kill a Better Mousetrap opens August 20 at OC-centric. Buy tickets for Scott's play via 714-902-5716 or CLICK HERE.