Reviewed by: John Quinn
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The Grand Dame of Crime, Agatha Christie, deserves a category in “Trivial Pursuit” (that, my children, was a board game we played before the Internet taught us the real meaning of “trivial”) all her own. At the top of her achievements is her iconic 1952 murder mystery, “The Mousetrap,” which is about to celebrate its 60 anniversary of continuous production in London’s West End. That show has attracted over 10 million patrons. While its limited run will not be seen by that many (a shame, really), “The Mousetrap” is a joyful opening for the Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season.
Dame Agatha is often imitated, but never equaled. One is quick to note that her characters and plot devices are familiar, and an astute theater-seat detective can catch the murderer pretty early in the play. It doesn’t matter one bit: David J. Magidson has crafted a stylish, sophisticated rendition that keeps us on the edge of seats.
Our mystery begins at a country house somewhere near post-war London. An ambitious young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Megan Dobbertin and Alec Barbour), have converted the cavernous Monkswell Manor into a guest house. It’s opening day, and four guests are expected. They include the flighty Christopher Wren (Topher Payne), who, to use a contemporary idiom, seems a little light in the loafers. He’s joined by an officious – and offensive – snob, Mrs. Boyle (Vanessa Sawson), and the staid Major Metcalf (Joshua Blake Rippy). The young and thoroughly modern Miss Casewell (Danielle Cochrane) rounds out the quartet.
As bad luck and reliable plot devices would have it, a raging blizzard has closed the roads! Out of the storm arrives, unannounced, the oily Mr. Mustapha (Edmund Alyn Jones), who’s managed to flip his Rolls in a snowdrift. The tinder is set; all that’s needed is a match. That would be a call from the police that Detective Sergeant Trotter (Christopher Call) is on his way (on snowshoes, of course) with distressing news. Monkswell Manor is linked to a murder in London. He announces that the murderer is in the house, and two more lives are in danger.
But who is the murderer? Who are his intended victims? Why do you think they call these potboilers “who-done-its?”
Agatha Christie was so pleased with the double-twist ending of “The Mousetrap” that she forbid the publication of the original short story in the U.K. That order remains in effect. So special is the surprise that generations of theater goers have honored the request to “keep the secret.” Only in 2010 was the mystery revealed by the spoil sports at a certain website where nothing is sacred. I’m not telling you which one.
“The Mousetrap” is such an earnest example of its genre it practically cries out for a campy parody. You won’t find a hint of that here. Magidson and his ensemble give a clean, sincere rendition of a classic. There is beautiful balance between the rather normal characters, the Ralstons and Trotter, and the rather loopy guests. Of these, the audience favorite is Edmund Alyn Jones. His Mustapha revels in his mock menace with all the gusto that Jones brought to his Richard III in the 2010 season.
Even a barbarian like myself, who will cheerfully wish an actor “good luck” or yell “Macbeth!” in a crowded theater, is going to honor the tradition of keeping the ending a secret. You’ll have to find out on your own — and no fair using Google. I will give you a hint, though; the butler didn’t do it.
SHOW DETAILS: “The Mousetrap” continues at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 13, plus Wednesday, Oct. 3. Running time: 125 minutes. Tickets: $12-30. For information: 313-577-2972 or www.hilberry.com.