BWW Reviews: Rare Professional Production of THE MOUSETRAP at Great Lakes Theater Deserves to Be Seen

Classic MOUSETRAP, a mystery that is fun at Great Lakes Theatre;

 Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

During the pre-talk of the opening night production of THE MOUSETRAP, William Fee, Great Lakes Theatre's Producing Artistic Director, shared that when the company was designing the 2011-2012 season, they wanted to add a different dimension to their offerings.  The show selected had to take a diverse approach to the usual offerings, but retain the theatre's classic tradition.

When someone suggested Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP, the play that opened in 1952, and is still running in London, making it the longest running theatrical production in the history of modern theatre, everyone laughed.  It's an old warhorse that everyone has seen.  Not quite.  When a poll was taken of the laughers, all theatre experts, not one had ever seen a professional production of the show. And, no one had seen a movie version of the script.  Of course not.  The permission agreement states that no movie will be made until the show ends its London run. Interest was peaked and a decision was made to produce the show.  Easier said then done. 

As Fee found when he tried to get only one professional production a year is authorized. But, since it is the 60th anniversary of the show, which was originally written as a radio play in 1947, in honor of Queen Mary's 80th birthday, the producers are allowing 60 world-wide professional stagings.  GLT was fortunate to get one of the agreements.

Several other interesting tidbits surround the history of the show.  Christie's grandson was born on the day the play opened.  As a birth present the author granted him full royalties to the script.  That means that all of the pounds and dollars in income that have been made, have gone to the future millionaire in swaddling clothes.   That's one great present from gram!

 THE MOUSTRAP, which was originally entitled THREE BLIND MICE, was a bold play for its time.  It was not only a fascinating who-done-it, with a great twist at the end, but it is a well crafted piece in which clues are dropped continually that lead to the revelation of the murderer.  It is a mystery that probes what fear does to people and what happens when people are crowded together.  It is also a play that, because it was not written to be performed, but read on radio, has dialogue that is often hard to act.  It has its own texture and word puzzles, and the action has to be created by the director to make it visual rather than imagined.

At the start of the play, a woman is killed by someone whose identity is shrouded by a hat, coat and scarf.  Who is this killer? 

The scene shifts to Monkswell Manor, outside of London, where a group of supposedly randomly assembled people gather.  Those present are the proprietors of a newly openEd English guest house, five visitors, and a detective who arrives in order to protect the residents from the London killer who, it is reported, has a connection to one or more of those at the manor.  Hmmm!

A snow storm rages outside so no one can come or go.  The telephones stop working.  One person is killed.  There is fear for the death of more.  The audience spends its time trying to grasp the clues as to the identity of the murder! 

Who did it?  Since there is no butler, that option is erased. I know, but I'm not telling.  You won't either if you attend the GLT production.  At the end of the show you will be sworn to secrecy, just as all audiences have in the 60 year run of the script.  What happens if you tell the untellable?  No one knows, but, are you willing to tempt the fates?

The GLT production, under the direction of Drew Barr, is generally good.  The pacing is a little slow, the set is somewhat disconcerting with the entrance areas confusing and a room filled with unexplained radios which dominates the stage, is a distraction.  On the other hand, the acting is excellent, the sound effects add to the mystery, and the incidental music and lighting effects help build the tension.

David O'Byrne steals the show as the flighty, affecTed Christopher Wren.  He is a total delight.  Laura Perrotta makes the uptight, complaining Mrs. Boyle, a former judge, a figure to be reckoned with.  Fine performance here!  Sara Bruner, as the mannish Miss Casewell; Aled Davis, as the attentive Major Metcalf; Jodi Dominick, as Mollie Ralston, the owner of the manor; Tom Ford as Mr. Paravicini, he of fake Italian accent (hmm!); Dan Lawrence, as intense Detective Sergeant Trotter; and Paul Hurley as Mollie's suspicious husband, are all excellent. 

Capsule judgement:  THE MOUSETRAP is a classic British murder mystery that gets a good performance at Great Lakes Theatre and deserves to be seen.  It is one of your only opportunities, unless you go to London, to experience the creative genius of Agatha Christie's script in a professional setting.

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From This Author Roy Berko