Who strangled Mrs. Boyle in the living room? Was it the bratty architect in the bedroom? Or the retired major in the cellar? Or…?
Sounds like a board game, doesn’t it? Clue, for example?
Intended or not, this Agatha Christie whodunit does parallel Clue in a basic way. There is a murder, a victim and suspects. Also, there is the fun of trying to guess who the killer is and in this particular case, if you are seeing it for the first time, the blow to your self esteem of guessing wrong. Guessing right, I guarantee, is not an option.
The title is “The Mousetrap.” The place is an English countryside, The Great Hall at Monkswell Manor. The time is circa 1950, wintertime.
Two newlyweds are hosting four paying guests, a stranger and a police sergeant, all of whom are snowed in together with no way out. The telephone lines have been cut. There is no communication with the outside world. And in the midst of it all is a homicidal maniac hunting his next victim.
Scary stuff? Not really. Most of us are used to that kind of thing.
What sets this “Mousetrap” apart are the characters. Dated, they are; but also fresh, hard not to respond to and spirited. You want to stay with them; and you do, every step of the way.
Jenny Dreesen as Mollie Ralston stands out as a bright-eyed, pure-hearted, conscientious newlywed, forced to face and make peace with a secret only Joan of Arc could have felt guilty about. Dreesen starts out amiable and pleasant and ends up sympathetic because of a fragile nature.
And David Bailey as Mollie’s husband, Giles, balances out his ladylove, masterfully. Bailey is gentle, caring, attentive and not without a husband’s entirely understandable limits, which he sometimes ventures beyond and pays the price for. A fine performance by a fine actor.
David Nance as a bratty architect and Christopher Wren (his name is intended to be confused with that of the British architect who made history), are definite show highlights. Nance whines, snivels, tries to ingratiate himself with the other adults the way a child does and falls on his face, invariably and pitifully and shamelessly but always amusingly if not hilariously. Nance is a keeper, no question.
As is Adam Othman as Mr. Paravicini, the stranger who comes out of nowhere with no past, no future, no nothing, just him. Othman, taunts, teases, delights in playing on the fears of others. A comedy highlight that deals in the sinister, “the macabre,” as he puts it.
Rebecca Pugh Parker as Mrs. Boyle and Justin Tinsley as Major Metcalf buttress up the cast as a hypersensitive, always fidgeting, constantly criticizing old maid and a stuffy, starched-shirted military man comfortably situated with his retirement and his no doubt satisfactory military record.
Brandi Shepherd as Miss Casewell is a real sleeper. She starts out distant, aloof, with an air of superiority, but as the plot thickens, turns out to be the exact opposite. Hers is a well-kept secret, not even hinted at until revealed and then a definite shocker. And Shepherd manages the task without skipping a beat.
Jeffrey Hitchin rounds out this very fine cast as Sergeant Trotter, the investigating policeman. Hitchin is authoritative, commanding in his presence, all that a policeman should be and then some, believe me.
A word about director Larry Albert’s aim with this production. His notes say he saw “Mousetrap” as a time capsule. “… a time capsule of manners, expectations and mystery.” And that, it is. Careful attention has been paid to the British way of speaking, behaving, believing. “Expectations,” I am not sure of. But mystery, there is plenty of; pure mystery, sinister mystery, delicious mystery, mystery to be savored.
However, it is the characters in Christie as it is people in life. Humanity for me makes all the difference.
Driftwood rings the bell with this one. A must-see.