PROVO — Agatha Christie is a name that has come to be associated with all things mysterious and twisty. Her classic mystery The Mousetrap is a prime example, filled with red herrings and surprises (I promise, this commentary is spoiler-free). The play has become a classic, holding the world record for the longest theatrical run: it’s been playing in London non-stop since 1952 and is still going strong.
Things start out innocently enough when young marrieds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Jessica Pearce and Gary Reimer) open up their sprawling house, Monkswell Manor, to boarders. The boarders are a range of characters and personalities: the eccentric architect Christopher Wren (Graham Ward); the snooty, upright Mrs. Boyle (Kris Jennings); the fatherly Major Metcalf (Lon Keith); the aloof Miss Casewell (Jennifer Chandler); and the Italian gentleman Mr. Paravicini (Daniel Hess). Each has his or her particular likes and quirks to throw at the Ralstons, who have their hands full running their first business. Meanwhile, the snow outside shows no sign of stopping.
By the next day, the snow has isolated Monkswell Manor and its occupants from the rest of the world. The streets, banked in five feet of snow, are icy and treacherous. Mollie and Giles do their best to keep all of their guests happy despite the weather, though Mrs. Boyle is intent on making it clear that she is unsatisfied with everything. As time passes, it becomes clear that everyone in the house is harboring some kind of secret.
Mollie receives a disturbing phone call from the local police station: an officer is being sent to the Manor as part of an ongoing murder investigation. Soon after, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Curtis McOsker) arrives, insisting on pursuing his investigation of a local murder, though no one at Monkswell Manor can understand their connection to it.
Trotter’s tenacity puts everyone on edge: is a killer loose in Monkswell Manor? Will there be another murder? If so, who will be next?
In true Christie style, seasoned director Barta Heiner succeeds in creating an evening of suspense, carefully peeling away layers of secrets to reveal the startling truths beneath. As in any good drama, she presents real people and real relationships pressured by extraordinary circumstances. Heiner’s world is made more real by the production’s lovely design elements; I was particularly impressed by the detailed, imposing darkness of Annie Lyman’s set and how Daniel James’ lighting made the smallest of shadows seem sinister.
The cast is quite solid. Just one example is Daniel Hess’ wonderfully macabre Mr. Paravicini, the surprise guest who relishes the potential horror of the group’s situation. Dare you trust him? Is he a murderer, or simply looking for a laugh? Hess’ performance is the standard rather than the exception; I very much enjoyed the variety of characterizations amongst the cast as all embrace their individual character quirks and flaws with energy and honesty.
The difficulty in presenting a play as dated as this one is to do so in a way that is fresh and inviting; though I am a Christie fan, it’s a little frustrating to have the action in such an urgent situation replaced by dialogue. In fact, while I enjoyed the show immensely overall, my one major quibble would be that of pacing: the talkiness of the piece tends to drag, and there are times when the actors give in to the talkiness rather than overcome it.
It’s not a wonder that the play is incredibly popular; this kind of true “whodunnit” is great fun, posing questions and doubts about every character and relationship. Just when you think you’ve pegged the murderer, the facts may twist and change everything. While The Mousetrap isn’t necessarily an edge-of-your-seat thriller, this production is an engaging and entertaining mystery. This is the first play to be produced on the Covey Center’s main stage, and I for one certainly hope it’s not the last.