REVIEW: Hilberry Theatre works hard to build a better ‘Mousetrap’

Reviewed by: John Monaghan

Click HERE to read the review on the Detroit Free Press Website!

It’s only fitting that the Hilberry Theatre opens its 50th-anniversary season with “The Mousetrap.” For the past half-century, the graduate theater company at Wayne State University has been staging quality classics like this polished, entertaining version of the Agatha Christie thriller.

Alec Barbour, left, and Megan Dobbertin run the British country hotel that is the setting for Hilberry Theatre’s “The Mousetrap.” Photo by: Felix Li

The 1952 whodunit, still the longest-running play in theater history, finds a group of travelers snowbound at Monkswell Manor, a British country hotel. They include Major Metcalf (Joshua Blake Rippy), recently retired from the British army; childlike Christopher Wren (Topher Payne); prim magistrate Mrs. Boyle (Vanessa Sawson), and the modern, masculine Miss Casewell (Danielle Cochrane).

These and others are eventually questioned by Detective Sgt. Trotter (Christopher Call), who arrives at the scene on snowshoes. A murderer is on the loose in the vicinity and Trotter has been sent to investigate. His interrogation grows more insistent when one of the guests ends up dead, strangled to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.”

Soon we discover along with the detective that the murderer is out for revenge related to a case involving child abuse and neglect that was in the headlines years ago.

And of course, no one on the premises — even the young couple (Alec Barbour and Megan Dobbertin) who run the place — is coming clean about what link they might have to the story.

The first thing you notice about this “Mousetrap” is the atmospheric set design by Curtis Green. He has used mature, leafless birch trees, lit a frosty blue, as the backdrop for his cozily decorated stage. As snow falls outside the tall, burnished windows of Monkswell Manor, the characters deliver their lines in and around well-worn but comfortable overstuffed chairs.

It’s this line delivery that sometimes trips the actors up. Most have the British banter down, which makes Call’s weak accent work as the detective stand out.

The other performers strive to make their characters more than stock types. Edmund Alyn Jones, my favorite member of the current Hilberry troupe, even changes the name of his part from Mr. Paravicini in the original script to Mr. Mustapha here. Think Chico Marx with a fez.

At the production’s best, the Hilberry and director David J. Magidson do with “The Mousetrap” what they strive to do with any chestnut — allow the talented troupe of students to take what could have been a waxworks exercise and make it fresh again.

Contact freelancer JOHN MONAGHAN: madjohn@earthlink.net

More Details: ‘The Mousetrap’

* * *

out of four stars

8 p.m. Thu.-Fri.,

2 & 8 p.m. Sat.

Through Oct. 13

Hilberry Theatre

4743 Cass, Detroit

313-577-2972

www.hilberry.com

$12-$30

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