Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is no longer a mere theatrical work, but a Guinness World Records phenom. Running more than a half-century in London’s West End, it is the longest continuously performed play in history.
On this side of the pond, “The Mousetrap” is a mainstay of amateur community theaters, but professional stagings are less frequent. Why? Village Theatre’s handsome but sluggish new production provides some clues.
This 1952 murder mystery (titled after the play-within-a-play in “Hamlet”) has all the patented ingredients of a recipe Christie invented, perfected and embellished in her 80 novels and short story collections, and 19 stage dramas.
At a country manse-turned-guesthouse (impressively evoked in Jason Phillips’ enormous set, towering fireplace and all), a group of suspects, er, characters, are holed up — trapped by a severe snowstorm that makes the place inaccessible (natch).
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Which person may be responsible for the London slaying that drop-in sleuth Trotter (Jared Michael Brown) is investigating? And for a second murder about to occur?
Is the perp the sneering Italian con man Paravicini (David Pichette)? The guesthouse owner (Richard Nguyen Sloniker), or his anxious wife (Hana Lass)? The butch, blasé Miss Casewell (Jennifer Lee Taylor), or flamboyant young Christopher Wren (Quinn Armstrong)?
Christie, as her fans well know, is a master of the well-laid plot. (This one has a big twist, and weaves in child abuse, the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” and at least one case of false identity.)
But a formula is a formula. Recent TV versions of Christie’s signature Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries have zipped up and added some modern luster to her mustier tales. But “The Mousetrap” is no longer a snappy contraption. And at the Village, in Jeff Steitzer’s leisurely staging, the plot tends to plod along.
Pichette, Armstrong and Ellen McLain (as resident old biddy Mrs. Boyle) seize opportunities to munch the scenery, while R. Hamilton Wright (as Major Metcalf), Sloniker and Lass give more measured performances in blander roles.
The standouts here are Brown’s wily, take-charge Trotter, and Taylor, who gives her evasive character a soignée aura of Garbo-esque inscrutability.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org