Murder can be difficult to stage. The Mousetrap has one murder on the stage, but the play is filled with suspense, stories of what happened in the past, and enough energy to make any audience member fearful.
Agatha Christie wrote The Mousetrap and a stage filled with interesting, exciting characters. She wrote that suspension should fall on each character in his or her turn. Due to her deft writing, and the Great Lakes Theater production's excellent directing and superb acting, suspicion does fall on each character.
The Mousetrap is the longest running theatrical production in history. The show has played in London for the past sixty years, accumulating over 24,500 performances. To commemorate the play's diamond anniversary, sixty official productions have been licensed worldwide; Great Lakes Theater's staging is one of the sixty.
The Great Lakes Theater, celebrating its 50th season, has opened the 2012 season with The Mousetrap. The season will continue with Romeo and Juliet and Sondheim on Sondheim.
Russell Metheny (scenic designer) has created a stylized set of ramps, platforms, and a cluttered, small sitting room filled with radios, a fireplace and a chair. Most of the set is painted steel blue-black. Upstage, against the wall, the set is dark tones with flashes of white light. The cast brings chairs downstage and they sit on those chairs most of the time when not involved in a scene. This is hardly the 1920s set we often think of when we anticipate a Christie play.
The set and unique staging move much of the focus of the murder mystery to the psychological aspects of the storyline. The audience is sworn not to reveal the name of the killer. However, the story is a typical Christie mystery in some ways. A group of people have gathered in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor. The snow storm is so great that no one can enter and no one can leave. Of course, as one character notes, "That means the murderer is one of us."
I've seen most of Christie's plays. In The Mousetrap, she seems to focus on more psychological issues than any of her other plays. This makes the play more involving than her other mysteries.
Drew Barr (director) keeps the production moving at a fast pace. This prevents a script that seems to have more dialogue than action from being weighed down by talk.
The cast is uniformly excellent. However, some performances demand special attention. Jodi Dominick, who played a sexy, vibrant Sally Bowles in Cabaret, creates a mousy Mollie Ralston and shows again her versatility. Laura Perrotta has acted thirteen seasons in the Great Lakes Theater. Local audiences have watched her move from sexy siren to the dowdy Mrs. Boyle in the current production. Sara M. Bruner, dressed in a man's suit and with legs spread apart as men sit when watching a football game, creates a masculine yet vulnerable Miss Casewell.
The Mousetrap originated as a radio play called Three Blind Mice, which Christie wrote for Queen Mary's 80th birthday in 1947. Christie later adapted her radio play to the stage. In this production after the murderer has been recognized, the director moves the production back to a radio play, with the spoken words coming out of a radio in the sitting room.
The Great Lakes Theater Company proves, once again, that no matter how difficult the scrip or the production concept, the technicians and performers are up to the challenge.
The Mousetrap, through March 25 at the Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 2067 East 14th Street, Cleveland. For schedule and ticket information, call 216-2241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.
- David Ritchey