Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE MOUSETRAP • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The season's first snowfall this past week in St. Louis provided the perfect setting for the Rep's current production, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”.  A month ago I mentioned that "The Woman in Black" was the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of London's West End.  Well, "The Mousetrap", at over 25,000 performances, is numero uno.  Originally a radio broadcast written in 1947 for Queen Elizabeth, it premiered onstage in 1952, and has been running ever since.  The plot is pretty simple -- guests at an English manor house are snowed in while there's a murderer on the loose, yet the production at the Rep elicits the play's snug, straightforward charm that displays why, after 60 years, this lesser play of Christie's is her most popular.

Sean Mellott (Christopher Wren) and William Connell (Giles).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Beginning with the whistled refrain of the nursery rhyme, "Three Blind Mice", the lights come up on a frigid afternoon of heavy snowfall, where young married couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston, are preparing for their first day as the proprietors of the newly renovated Monkswell Manor.  Giles (William Connell), hardworking and businesslike, tries to calm Mollie (Ellen Adair), who is anxious about everything being in order by the time their first of four booked guests arrive.  First to check-in is the flamboyantly odd architect, Christopher Wren (Sean Mellott), who is delighted with the respectability of the house.  Their second guest, snooty and unpleasant Mrs. Boyle (Darrie Lawrence), is not impressed at all, and bemoans the lack of proper service.  The other expected guests include the agreeable Major Metcalf (Michael James Reed), and ex-army man whom we know little about, and the manly, trouser-wearing Miss Casewell (Tarah Flanagan), in town to take care of some vague business.  Mr. Paravicini (Larry Paulsen), a sneering and mysterious European arrives unexpectedly -- stranded after his car runs into a snowdrift.

Darrie Lawrence (Mrs. Boyle).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The radio broadcasts speak of a murder that's taken place on Culver Street in London, about 30 miles away from the manor, and once a description of the suspect's attire is given, including a dark coat, a felt hat and scarf -- something everyone wore back then, the speculation begins.  Soon after Mollie receives a phone call from the police, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Christian Pedersen) arrives on skis and informs the guests that there may be a connection between the murder in London and Monkswell Manor, and they all might be in danger.  Before long it becomes apparent that the murderer is staying at the manor, and Trotter's investigation casts suspicion on just about everyone, along with laying out a fair number of false leads, keeping the audience guessing until the end.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Under the thoughtful direction of Paul Mason Barnes, the cast provide strong performances, giving their respective characters enough depth beyond their first introduction to make you believe any one of them could have done it.  John Ezell's scenic design includes stained glass windows, towering walls and the heavy elegance of a grand and well-worn manor house.  The production is also elevated by Dorothy Marshall Englis's costumes that sit snuggly within the play's design, Peter E. Sargent's evocative lighting design, and Rusty Wandall's slick sound design.  

Two last things:  1 -- There's a long held tradition of secrecy about the ending of this comedic murder mystery, and the audience is asked not to give the identity of the murderer away.  2 -- The Rep's production of this classic theatre nugget is well worth seeing to find out for yourself.

Larry Paulsen (Mr. Paravicini) and Ellen Adair (Mollie).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through December 29 | tickets: $20.00 - $81.00
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Ellen Adair* (Mollie Ralston), William Connell* (Giles Ralston), Sean Mellott* (Christopher Wren), Darrie Lawrence* (Mrs. Boyle), Michael James Reed* (Major Metcalf), Tarah Flanagan* (Miss Casewell), Larry Paulsen* (Mr. Paravicini) and Christian Pedersen* (Detective Sergeant Trotter).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Christian Pedersen (Detective Sergeant Trotter)
and Tarah Flanagan (Miss Casewell).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Scenic design by John Ezell; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Peter E. Sargent; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Glenn Dunn; assistant stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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