Every mystery ever written hangs by a slender thread, since if you know the identity of "whodunit," your interest in the piece disappears.
Amazingly, the secret at the heart of Agatha Christie's suspenseful play The Mousetrap has been kept under wraps since 1952.
That's how long the show has been running in London's West End. And now, during the play's diamond anniversary celebration, Great Lakes Theatre is one of 60 companies worldwide given the rights to this iconic piece of theater history.
For a popular and fairly undemanding entertainment inspired by a radio drama, The Mousetrap has aged pretty well. And this production, while not exceptional in all cases, gives Agatha's old warhorse a pretty vigorous trot around the track.
The setup sounds like a million other mysteries, probably because this Christie mystery has been copied, borrowed from, or parodied at least that many times.
A young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston, are the new owners of the Monkswell Manor, a guest house where they are expecting their first overnight visitors. Soon, the rambling manse is populated by a group of theatrically eccentric individuals.
The elderly Mrs. Boyle is a gray-haired nag suffering from crotchety rot, while Christopher Wren is a gay young man who gushes over mahogany sideboards and loves to cook. (Hey, if you're looking for a play that crushes stereotypes, this ain't it.)
Continuing the theme, a mannish young woman wearing a suit, Miss Casewell, takes up another room, and the gruff and taciturn Major Metcalf also shows up. The last guest, the oh-so-Italian Mr. Paravicini, lands at Monkswell due to a car accident caused by a raging blizzard that will (aha!) keep them all trapped together.
Soon, a plainclothes detective shows up on skis to warn the folks that a murder was committed the day before in London. Of course, it isn't long before one of the guests who checked in is abruptly checked out — permanently. Cue the hoary line: "The murderer is in this room right now!"
Clearly, this play would have been harder to figure out six decades ago than it is today. Contemporary audiences have been rigorously trained to unscramble byzantine plot structures and mysteries far more complex than Agatha's linear exercise. So you may not be flummoxed by trying to figure out who the real culprit is.
That said, there are still pleasures to be had in this classic bit of skulduggery. As snarky Mrs. Boyle, Laura Perrotta proves she can ice anyone at ten paces with her petrified Face of Doom. And Ryan David O'Byrne camps it up just enough as fey Wren without going all Paul Lynde on everyone.
Tom Ford garners many laughs as Mr. Paravicini by doing an impression of Nathan Lane doing an impression of Chef Boyardee. And Sara M. Bruner struts her butch stuff as Miss Casewell.
But in the roles of the host Ralstons, Jodi Dominick isn't warm and fuzzy enough as Mollie, and Paul Hurley mostly just disappears as Giles. The same can also be said for Dan Lawrence, who leaves many areas of the detective's character traits unexplored.
However, director Drew Barr displays some clever flourishes, including staging small slivers of the play as a radio show, sometimes complete with a floor mic, as a tribute to the play's origin.
Plus, scenic designer Russell Metheny's intricately detailed, forced-perspective room-in-a-box is stationed in front of the visible and stark backstage area, which nicely plays with the artificial nature of the enterprise.
Ultimately, Christie's concoction is a bit cheesy. But a mousetrap without cheese is no trap at all, so enjoy.
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