McCarter Theatre snags its audience with Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’


Usually when discussing a murder mystery you want to make sure you don’t give away the whodunnit’s ending. In McCarter Theatre’s superb production of “The Mousetrap,” it’s also the beginning I can’t talk about too much as it’s a stunner and I don’t want to ruin it

Yes, this is the same Agatha Christie play that opened in London in 1952 and is still running, becoming a must-see for folks visiting England’s capital. Having seen it myself. albeit several decades ago, I still remembered who the murderer was so I must admit I was not as excited as one should be seeing it for the first time.

Just how different could director Adam Immerwahr make a classic that began as a short radio play first broadcast in 1947 and speaks so much to that time period? Well …

There’s that phenomenal beginning that Immerwahr, lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg and sound designer Nick Kourtides collaborated on. It earned huge applause. Enuf said about that.

Then when the curtain falls — yes, falls — we are stunned by a room worthy of Downtown Abbey designed by Alexander Dodge. The ceiling itself is enough to cause your eyes to widen. Then there’s that severe perspective Dodge created with the side walls angled to draw our attention to huge Gothic-like windows. Paneled walls, a huge fireplace and several Turkey rugs (as the Brits like to say) cover the floor along with assorted other seating.

We’re still in Agatha Christie-land, but with modern theater techniques. Although, at times, the downstage lights are angled in such a way they resemble footlights. It’s a nice homage.

Why all this talk about the tech staff, which includes costumer designer Nick Kourtides and the whole backstage crew? They deserve it and, besides, I can’t talk too much about the plot, especially when a cast member asks the audience not give it away to anyone during the curtain call. (But, of course, you must have seen the movie? Nope. According to the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be done until six months after the West End production closes. (Don’t hold your breathe!)

Jessica Bedford and Adam Green play Mollie and Giles Ralston, newlyweds who have turned Monkswell Manor into an enjoyable guest home. At least, that's the plan. (PHOTO: T Charles Ericsson)
Jessica Bedford and Adam Green play Mollie and Giles Ralston, newlyweds who turned Monkswell Manor into an enjoyable guest home. At least, that’s the plan. (PHOTO: T Charles Ericsson)

That’s not to say the actors are overshadowed by the set — they are not. They are superb as well. Jessica Bedford and Adam Green play Mollie and Giles Ralston, married just a year, and today opening Monkswell Manor, a country guest house.

The guests include:

— Christopher Wren (Andy Phelan), a somewhat nervous young man with a maniacal laugh who enjoys whistling nursery rhyme tunes

— Mrs. Boyle (Sandra Shipley), a spinster who is never satisfied with anything,  grumbles there is no “proper staff” and longs for the old England

— Major Metcalfe (Graeme Malcolm), the personification of a WW2 British officer, ramrod straight posture, harrumphs a lot

— Miss Casewell (Emily Young), dresses in a man’s suit, rarely gives a straight answer to a question, says she has local business to attend to but won’t elaborate

Again, set designer Dodge comes through with a beautiful snow storm — first falling lightly then blowing sideways — for us to enjoy against those two-story tall windows. But for the household, the snow cuts them off. They are snowbound. Nobody can reach them. Or so they think.

Mr. Paravicini, played by Thom Sesma is an unexpected guest. (PHOTO: T Charles Ericsson)
Mr. Paravicini, played by Thom Sesma, is an unexpected weekend guest. (PHOTO: T Charles Ericsson)

Mr. Paravicini (Thom Sesma) unexpectedly arrives saying his car slid off the road into a ditch. Being a foreigner, all are suspicious of him. He doesn’t help himself by being verbose, flipping a handkerchief around and suggesting things are mysterious.

Det. Sgt. Trotter (Richard Gallagher) arrives on snow skies. The local police station called earlier saying they were sending him to ask questions and the guests must cooperate. He is following up to a recent murder in London of Maureen Lyon. She and her husband were imprisoned for mistreating their three foster children. The youngest died. A notebook found at the murder scene contained the address of Monkswell Manor and the words “Three Blind Mice.”

Police believe the oldest boy of the abused children, now about 22, of being the killer. Hmmm … Both Christopher and Giles could fit that bill.

All five guests deny any personal knowledge of the case, as do Molly and Giles. So who done did it? Your going to have to go see the show, an excellent one to bring children and young adults to as well.

The only thing negative to say is it tends to drag a bit in the second act, but that’s Christie’s fault and it is short-lived.

The details:

Inside Story
45 minutes before any performance of The Mousetrap a talk is led by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff. Hear what inspired the play, its creation and style, and more.

Post-show discussions

Interactive audience-based conversations facilitated by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff, often featuring cast members focusing  on a range of topics including how artistic choices were made for the production, the actors’ process, and reflections and questions from audience members. Post-show discussions occur following:

— 2:00 p.m. performance Sunday, March 20

— 7:30 p.m. performance Thursday, March 24.

Ticket info

Single tickets for The Mousetrap  range from $25 to $89.50 and are available at  mccarter.org, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, 91 University Place in Princeton.  The Mousetrap is on the stage at the Matthews Stage. The production runs 2 hour and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

This production is recommended for ages 9 and older.

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