REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, The Mousetrap, made its debut in London’s West End in 1952, and, incredibly, some 64 years later, it’s still running, the longest continuous run of a play in its initial stage in theater history. Seeing a classic like The Mousetrap for the first time is something that no theater goer should take lightly. The experience can be spoiled by a poorly directed or inadequately cast presentation. Fortunately, the Elite Theatre Company’s current production does justice to Christie’s work, with an impeccably selected cast and taut direction.
The plot is rife with potential clichés: a mysterious murder, an inquisitive detective, and seven wildly different suspects (why is it always seven?) who are imprisoned together in an isolated house due to inclement weather, in this case, a snowstorm. All the story needs is a pipe organ playing stings when the detective says, “One of you…(sting)…is a murderer!” But Christie’s work doesn’t fall into hackneyed traps; despite the familiar machinations of murder mystery genre, it remains fresh and unpredictable.
The fun in The Mousetrap – and this is as far as I’m going to go as far as giving a clue about its outcome – is that no character is as they appear to be. Each has an alter ego, hidden past, or secret that is not divulged when we first meet them. Some are never explained. All of this keeps the audience on the edge of its collective seat, waiting to see how the story plays out. In his program notes, director John Eslick emphasizes that deception is an enormous part of The Mousetrap, just as is the nascent English flavor of the dialog and characters. Thus, Eslick, whose grandparents themselves are British emigrés, made sure that the cast was schooled in their accents.
Eslick, who also designed the marvelous set – a stylish Victorian-decorated living room in Monkswell Manor – cast Brittany Danyel and Peter Vandehei as Mollie and Giles Ralston, a young married couple who have turned the manor into a boarding house. Danyel is terrific as she moves from playing the unsuspecting landlady and wife to a fearful paranoid; even her husband is not beyond reproach. Danyel and Vandehei develop an excellent rapport as the manor’s hosts that soon threatens to disintegrate because of the rapidly deteriorating atmosphere in the manor.
Eric McGowan is especially effective as Christopher Wren, the flighty, neurotic, would-be architect whose peculiar activities and unkempt appearance make him an immediate suspect in the murder. Jennifer Brown plays Mrs. Boyle, a snooty, severe guest who complains about everything and soon invites the revulsion of everyone. Andy Brasted is the mysterious, pipe smoking Major Metcalf, of whom little is known; the lack of detail and his penchant for being a shadowy, silent form in nearly every scene makes him a disquieting presence. The talented Hanna Mitchell was an inspired choice as Miss Casewell, who is supposed to be a masculine looking woman with an aloof demeanor whose sarcastic responses to questions make her as suspicious as any of the others. In her best scene, Mitchell gets increasingly uneasy as she warms her hands by the fire, while eavesdropping on a discussion between the detective and Mollie.
Ken Jones plays Mr. Paravicini, an oversized man with an equally oversized Italian accent, whose claims his auto overturned in the snowstorm seem just a wee bit incredible. Alexander Schottky plays Trotter, the detective who suddenly appears at the house to interrogate the suspects. Schottky, we might add, was a significant star in German film and television, in addition to his work as an in-demand voiceover artist on German television, before moving to the U.S. in 2009. His skill in portraying the detective is a key element in identifying the murderer at Monkswell Manor. When Trotter points out discrepancies in the stories of every guest at the manor as well as their hosts, Mollie Ralston weeps, “Everybody’s a stranger!”
Christie ingeniously balances the scales so that each of the players is equally suspect. She continues cranking the tension until the final scene, when the guilty party is finally revealed. In the grand tradition of The Mousetrap, the audience is advised not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theater, and we will not violate that trust.
Roger Krevenas brought John Eslick’s elegant set design into reality; Monkswell Manor’s living room looks so inviting, Elite could probably rent it out as a room during the show’s run. Beth Glasner designed the excellent costumes while the overall production was overseen by Vivien Latham. The Mousetrap is THE classic whodunnit and not to be missed by anyone who loves live theater.
The Mousetrap plays at the Elite Theatre Company through July 3. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.