Big Dawg Productions has put together a really imaginative season this year. Working with pairings of shows as his inspiration, artistic director Steve Vernon has made several of my dreams come true with his spring offerings: Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” followed in a few weeks by Tom Stoppard’s parody, “The Real Inspector Hound.”
“The Mousetrap” is one of the most famous plays in the world: It holds the record for the longest running original production in London. Slightly less well-known is that Christie gave the rights to the show (or the financial interest) to her grandson, Matthew, for his eighth birthday present. Though I have read it many times, and I am a huge Agatha Christie fan (I even had a dog named in her honor), I had not yet seen the show staged. There cannot be a film made until the show in London has closed for six months. So, in spite of the incredible marketing efforts of Agatha Christie Limited (the entity that owns much of her estate), “The Mousetrap” has yet to be filmed.
The set-up is classically Agatha Christie: A group of people find themselves snowed in with no hope of rescue or escape in a remote, newly opened guest house. The proprietors Mollie Ralston (Tamica Katzman) and Giles Ralston (Alex Warf) are newly married and very nervous about their leap into business. Their first guest, Christopher Wren (Andrew Liguori), charms Mollie and repels Giles, which sets up a mirror for their divergent personalities.
Katzman and Warf’s Ralstons make a great team: She charms and soothes while he handles practicality and heavy lifting (both physically and metaphorically). Somehow they have jumped into the deep end of the pool with the hospitality business and have landed themselves with some very unlikable guests: Miss Casewell (Heather Lindquist-Bull), a rather prickly spinster with lots of secrets and angry, hurt eyes; Mr. Paravicini (Steve Rassin) a flamboyant, mysterious, foreign visitor who appears suddenly in the night; and the most unpleasant of them all, Mrs. Boyle (Laurene Perry), a retired magistrate who cannot open her mouth without complaining or finding fault. The only remotely likable one of the bunch is Major Metcalf (Craig Myers), who manages to smile and try to build up morale.
Our new innkeepers struggle through their first day in business, a snowstorm and then an ambush arrival of a police detective (Kenny Rosander) via snow skis. Apparently, there was a murder in London (of course), and a notebook found at the scene of the crime has led the police to this address. Someone in the inn is a murderer and someone else will be the next victim. Cue scary music.
The crux of the mystery rests with events that happened years earlier: three children who were abused (one of them fatally) at a farm in the area. Part of the conceit of “The Mousetrap” is a request made from the stage at the end, and it asks the audience not to give away the story when they leave the theatre. So, in honor of that, I won’t talk too much about what happens. But the performances are really quite lovely. Warf, Katzman, Meyers and Perry especially grapple with the unfolding events and information quite convincingly. Warf and Katzman have the difficulty of having to run the gamut of young love, to complete distrust, to reconciliation and a new day together in the course of the evening. That’s a lot handle, but they play it really naturally, and find the ebbs and flows within the relationship. Rosander revels in his role of puppet master—pulling the strings and making everyone dance with each new revelation or accusation.
Dallas LaFon and Terry Collins have put together quite an elaborate set that really captures what Christie fans want: cozy, terribly British, elegant and very much country estate. Costumer Shawn Sproatt must have had a lot of fun dressing Ligouri’s Christopher Wren in his outrageous, clashing clothes. All fun aside, she hits the mark with the 1940’s look for the women, especially Katzman’s suits.
Aside from the excitement of seeing this famous show and trying to solve the mystery before the characters on stage do, “The Mousetrap” still explores some important issues for us today. Child abuse, unfortunately, has not been eliminated from our world. We just passed what would be the 84th birthday of the real-life boy who inspired Jimmie Corrigan in “The Mousetrap.” Though the case that Christie based the Corrigan children on led to substantial overhauls to the foster-care system in the UK, the most vulnerable in our society still remain without voices. Vengeance as a motivation for murder is also a very relatable proposition.
For Agatha Christie fans, this is a great opportunity to see one of her most famous works without having to leave the country. The Queen of Crime has endured as a writer for a century because her work continues to speak to the darker, secretive and personally frightened reaches of the human mind. She shows us this side of our psyche in a world of elegance, class and above all civility.
In an Agatha Christie mystery, there might be danger of being killed—but at least the murderer will be polite about it. Also, rest assured that all the surviving suspects will be gathered into one room for the denouement.
Director Chris Brown and cast have mounted a production that pays homage to that tradition. For Christie fans, and those new to her work, this is guaranteed to be a night to remember.