Review: The Audience Takes The Bait At Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap' At The Rep

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Take seven characters, put them in a stately old English manor, leave them stranded courtesy of a snowstorm, kill somebody without revealing the killer and you’ve got the traditional set-up for a standard murder mystery. But this is Agatha Christie, and “The Mousetrap” is far from standard. It has become the classic that redefined the drawing room “whodunit,” known particularly for its surprise ending—several of them in fact.

 "The Mousetrap" at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“The Mousetrap” at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

In the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ level-headed, handsome production, we get a glimpse of why this cleverly constructed play has been running continuously since it opened in London’s West End in 1952, and is now the longest running show of any kind in the world.

The entire action takes place in the Great Hall of Monkswell Manor, an old, stately English home, now converted into a hotel by Mollie and Giles Ralston (Ellen Adair and William Connell) and opening for its first day of business. Guests are expected to arrive soon as a snowstorm rages outside. The set (John Ezell) exhibits a former luxuriousness to the tired old manor house, and closer inspection of the furnishings reveals a cobbled together décor where Queen Anne chairs mingle with Federal end tables, all under the watchful eyes of Egyptian cat statues, typical of a young couple whose eclectic furnishings have been cobbled together from nearby estate sales and furniture shops.

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

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

The usual suspects begin to trickle in from the storm: Sean Mellott as petulant and mewling Christopher Wren; Rep veteran Darrie Lawrence as the old biddy, Mrs. Boyle; Michael James Reed as the sturdy Major Metcalf; Tarah Flanagan as a sharp and sardonic Miss Casewell; Larry Paulsen as the flamboyant (and laughing) Mr. Paravicini, and Christian Pedersen as the systematic and likable Detective Sergeant Trotter. Once the mice are in, Christie sets the trap—for the audience.

There are more red herrings flying around Christie’s story than at the San Francisco Fish Market. From the opening minutes when Giles Ralston sneaks across the great hall and secrets a package in a floor chest, our attentions are directed, well, everywhere. Cut phone lines and missing skis, characters whose stories don’t quite add up or the frequent odd statement or action: It’s an orgy of suspicious behavior, twists, turns, secrets and surprising denouements. Then Christie ties it all up with a bow on the Rep’s pretty package.

Christian Pedersen as Detective Sergeant Trotter and Tarah Flanagan as Miss Casewell. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Christian Pedersen as Detective Sergeant Trotter and Tarah Flanagan as Miss Casewell.
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Of the technical aspects, there can be no complaints. Dorothy Marshall Englis’ costumes, lights by Peter E. Sargent and Rusty Wandall’s sound were all first-rate, as were the performances. Each actor developed a full, rich character and it was a delight to watch them in this work by the genre’s greatest practitioner. Likewise, director Paul Mason Barnes exhibits a skillful hand in staging and keeping the play moving, even with its long, dialogue-heavy scenes, which can sometimes be anathema to modern audiences.

If curling up with a good mystery on a snowy night sounds like your idea of a good time, try curling up with a live performance of “The Mousetrap” at the Rep instead. Besides, nothing says “The Holidays” like a good murder. Or three.

Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” continues at the Rep through Dec. 29. For tickets and information, visit the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis website, or call (314) 968-4925

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