Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Agatha Christie's Enduring The Mousetrap
--- from The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
The Mousetrap was originally written for the BBC as an original radio "mystery thriller" titled Three Blind Mice for Queen Mary who had asked for "a new Agatha Christie" for her 1947 80th birthday radio celebration. Christie adapted it for the stage (she had to change the title at the request of the author of an earlier produced play bearing the title Three Blind Mice). The Mousetrap opened in London's West End in 1952 where it has since run continuously. It has played more than 24,000 performance and is the longest running stage play in theatre history. Next month, it will celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Unless you are inclined to go to London to be a part of the celebratory anniversary performance on November 27 (certainly not a bad thing to do), you have the opportunity to see The Mousetrap close to home, thanks to the Centenary Stage Company and its entertaining new production. The Hackettstown theatre has mounted a production which possesses the qualities that have made this play such a popular success.
The action of the play occurs over the course of two days in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor, a newly opened vacation retreat outside of London owned and operated by a young and inexperienced couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Megan Irene Davis and Jon Mulhearn). A radio broadcast informs us that a woman has been brutally murdered in London. Five guests check in: Christopher Wren (Thomas Leverton), a nervous, high strung, rather odd young architect with a nerve wracking, maniacal laugh; Mrs. Boyle (Kathleen Huber), a fussy and demanding elderly woman who is vociferously dissatisfied by the amenities; Major Metcalf (Alan Coates), a pleasant middle-aged gentleman who keeps a low profile; Miss Casewell (Ashley Kowzun), who is secretive and androgynous in appearance. Last to arrive is the unexpected Mr. Paravicini (Dave Edwards), a make-up wearing, florid middle-aged man with a foreign accent and disquieting, overly friendly manner who claims that his car has been disabled after skidding out of control on a nearby icy road. There is a snow storm building outside which is by now in the throes of isolating Monkswell Manor. Detective Sergeant Trotter (Kenneth Sebastian) telephones the house. A clue found at the scene of the London murder has led him to believe that the murderer would head to Monkswell Manor with the intention of committing two more murders. Although it appears that impassable roads will prevent him from so doing, the determined Trotter soon arrives on skis. The game is afoot! As to what further happens, you will find not a clue here.
The production's best performance is that of Megan Irene Davis who brings a nervous intensity to her kindly, but overwrought Molly. Jon Mulhearn brings dimension to the role of her husband, Giles. By fully capturing the familiar stereotype of Mrs. Boyle in a no nonsense manner, Katherine Huber strongly lays the groundwork for the entire production. Kevin Sebastian gives a straightforward performance as a youthful Detective Sergeant Trotter.
Christie's modus operandi is to draw us in by revealing bits of intriguing information about her characters which makes us interested in learning more about them. As we learn more about them and the crime, we cannot help but try to figure out just who each character really is and how he fits into her puzzle. Despite the apprehension and chills that the play evokes, being snowbound at Monkswell Hall with her cast of characters takes us out of ourselves and places us comfortably in the cocoon of her world.
This effect is enhanced by Bob Phillip's large, detailed and evocative set for the stone, turreted Manor House and the detailed period costumes of Julia Sharp. Director Carl Wallnau has elicited detailed, quirky performances from his cast. There are some over the top, exaggerated performance choices that intentionally provoke campy laughter. To my mind, The Mousetrap would be best served by allowing its humor to emerge without any visible trace of awareness of it by its players.
In any event, the Centenary Stage production of The Mousetrap skillfully serves up an old fashioned, rewarding and cozy evening of classic mystery.
The Mousetrap continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesdays & Sunday 2 pm) through October 21, 2012, at Centenary Stage Company at the Sitnik Theatre in the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840. Box Office: 908-9794297; online: www.centenarystageco.org
The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie; directed by Carl Wallnau