If the board game “Clue” came to life as a stage play, it would do so as “The Mousetrap.” With its eccentric array of characters, mystery plot and surprise ending, it’s easy to see why “The Mousetrap,” which has been staged continuously since its 1952 London debut, is the longest-running play in history. For a play chiefly concerned with murder, director Patrick Dooley’s staging of “The Mousetrap” at Shotgun Players is wholeheartedly alive — an energetic production that enlivens the twists and turns of playwright Agatha Christie’s classic “whodunnit” drama.
“The Mousetrap” is a true ensemble piece and none of its characters are free from suspicion until the play’s very end. Indeed, each of the characters — all of whom are either strangely charming or charmingly strange — appears culpable at one point or another, both to the audience and, more importantly, to each other.
This sense of suspicion is maintained in large part due to the script, which confines the onstage action to a single setting: a recently opened guesthouse called Monkswell Manor. The guesthouse is run by Mollie and Giles Ralston (Megan Trout and Mick Mize), a mild-mannered young couple who are soon joined by a motley assortment of guests, including the peculiar Christopher Wren (Nick Medina), the affable army retiree Major Metcalf (David Sinaiko), the persnickety Mrs. Boyle (Trish Mulholland) and the stern-faced Miss Casewell (Karen Offereins). Later, the group is also joined by Mr. Paravicini (Alex Rodriguez), a man who assumes an Italian affect so flamboyant one assumes it must be fake, and Detective Sergeant Trotter (Adam Magill), a serious young detective who has come to Monkswell Manor to investigate a recent murder.
Each member of the cast offers a vibrant performance that keeps Christie’s watertight plot afloat for the length of the two-and-a-half hour production. In a director’s statement, Dooley described his production as one that strived “to recreate a world of charm, delight, and murder.” Indeed, Shotgun Players’ “The Mousetrap” succeeds on all three counts, aided by charming set and costume design by Mark Hueske and Valera Coble, respectively. Though the subject matter may be grim, the play does not lack moments of delight or even humor. In fact, the cast should be commended for balancing the twin masks of comedy and tragedy so well in a production that, because it is both highly well-known and fairly straightforward, could easily become a tongue-in-cheek staging that neglects to take its own central conceit seriously.
Medina and Mulholland in particular should be praised for their comic timing, while the emotional unraveling of Trout’s Mollie Ralston is particularly haunting. As a character, Mollie Ralston embodies some of the most abiding themes “The Mousetrap” has to offer. Torn, like many of the characters, between past misdeeds and current deceptions, Mollie is haunted by the paranoia of both her past transgressions and present circumstances. Later, we come to learn that none of the characters are fully innocent. Each character, from the crotchety Mrs. Boyle to the easygoing Major Metcalf, is connected to the play’s gruesome central murder in ways that are not immediately apparent, but that are sussed out slowly with each passing scene.
Early in the play, Christopher Wren remarks, “You never really know what anyone is like — what they are really thinking.” It’s true: In the world of “The Mousetrap,” as in our own, no one is ever as they appear to be and everyone is hiding something. Perhaps this truism is what makes Christie’s work so enduringly popular. In any case, Shotgun Players’ well-paced and gripping staging of “The Mousetrap” reminds us that, try as we might to run from the past, we can never outrun the present. It is only a matter of time before the truth will rise, shockingly, to the surface.
Contact Sarah Elizabeth Adler at [email protected].