REVIEW: The Hilberry opens its 50th season with Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’

Reviewed by: Patty Nolan

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There’s something satisfying and significant about kicking off a theatre’s 50th anniversary with a play that is celebrating its own 60th year of continuous performance in London’s West End. Dame Agatha’s iconic murder-mystery officially holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running play of all time, with over 24,000 performances and over 10 million in attendance. As always, the admonition to audiences remains – don’t reveal “whodunnit.”

Our lips are sealed.

But know that when you go to see “The Mousetrap” at WSU’s Hilberry Theatre – and you should go – you will be seeing more than a play. You will be participating in an experience, a theatre tradition, a ritual celebrating the essentials of drama – which is to say, it’s a ripping good yarn.

In this classic thriller, set in the late 1940s, a group of travelers are snowed in together at Monkswell Manor Guest Home, where they learn that a London murderer may be hiding amongst them. Although they all dismiss the threat at first, once an actual murder has been committed, the survivors grow increasingly suspicious and the accusations fly faster than snowflakes.


Trust director Dr. David Magidson to deliver a tight production that is true to the classic script – building suspense with each scene – while leaving his young company room to explore.

If there is a single standout in this production, it is the brilliant scenic design by Curtis Green, with lighting by Heather DeFauw. Monkswell Manor is represented by elegant period furniture set in a mahogany framework to suggest the entrance, windows, doors and layout of the room. This leaves us with a view over, around and through the set to the snowstorm outside and the ominous, barren white trees and snow drifts that surround and trap the characters within.

As always with repertory theatre, and especially with this MFA acting program, it is fun to see actors from the previous season tackle new roles.

Third year students Edmund Alyn Jones and Vanessa Sawson clearly enjoyed playing fresh, off-type characters. Jones, who was evil and elegant as Richard III in his first season, chewed up the scenery with his flamboyant portrayal of the eccentric Mr. Mustapha. The audience loved him and his inscrutable accent. And Sawson, who often plays the lovely coquette, was most convincing as the overbearing Mrs. Boyle, and quickly had people lined up to murder her, if only to make her shut up.

Topher Payne, who played the role of heroic Christian in last year’s “Cyrano,” animated the role of Christopher Wren as a foppish, over-sensitive young man who finds the idea of murder enchanting and the handsome Detective Sergeant Trotter most delicious. Trotter is all-business, as played by Christopher Call, who also appeared in “Cyrano” in the comic role of Ragueneau. Johsua Blake Rippy, who played an imbecilic youth in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” last season is back as the mature WWII Veteran Major Metcalf. Megan Dobbertin (“The Cripple of Inishmaan” and “Summer and Smoke”) and Alec Barbour (“Much Ado About Nothing” and “Major Barbara”) play the newly married couple who run Monkswell Manor and struggle not to suspect each other as Sergeant Trotter produces each new clue.

The Hilberry company brings freshness to this old chestnut, and the show is fun fare for a chilly fall evening. The play runs through October 13, with evening and matinee performances. See the website for details. Tickets for “The Mousetrap” range from $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

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