Agatha Christie’s famous 1952 play “The Mousetrap” holds the theatrical distinction of being the longest continuously running play in London‘s West End. It has been running since November 25, 1952. This murder mystery, classic “who-dun nit” has been a true crowd-pleaser. While it’s been mimicked and copied by many, the Chicago area is being treated to a new production, directed by Sean Graney, at the Court Theatre through mid-February.
While every play has a certain amount of audience expectations built into it by its title or word of mouth plot details or themes, sometimes audiences might be somewhat surprised by what they experience. For me, knowing its distinct historical importance, I purposely avoided reading background on “The Mousetrap’s” plot, its mystery and the multiple twists at the end.
I had seen film productions of Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution”, the Miss Marple films of the 1960s and television series and the Hercule Poirot mysteries “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile”. Each was an obvious murder mystery melodrama with a slight touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, what I didn’t expect was the Court Theatre’s production of “The Mousetrap” is played as complete farce comedy-mystery, with just momentary touches of serious drama. There are plenty of characters running around in outrageous outfits, opening and closing of doors, loud screams, and moving of furniture, all before the plot’s many surprises revelations.
The play takes place in an English country house, something like a bed-and-breakfast, run by a young couple Mr. and Mrs. Giles and Mollie Ralston, played by Allen Gilmore and Kate Fry. The area is hit by an incredible winter’s snowstorm and just the previous day a strangling had occurred locally. The scheduled, registered guests arrive in rapid succession: Christopher Wren, an oddly dressed young architect, who favors rust-colored orange suit and pants. The decidedly middle-aged, Mrs. Boyle, who dressed in leopard skin head to toe, complains about the lack of expected servants and lack of heat. Then, Major Metcalf, smartly dressed in a green military outfit. Miss Casewell dressed in a blue outfit, immediately shows interest in the previous day’s murder. Finally, the unexpected eccentric Mr. Paravicini, whose car was stuck in a snowdrift, escapes the storm looking for a place to stay, who’s all decked out in an outrageous purple suit coat. A phone call reveals Scotland Yard will be sending a policeman to investigate.
Soon when Detective Sergeant Trotter appears everyone is put on edge. Because of the snowstorm, he enters wearing skis and quickly Trotter goes to work interviewing the guests and discovers the phone line to the house has been cut. He warns them that the next victim of this area’s killer could likely be one of them. And after explaining a strange case of the Longridge Farm murder of years before he begins to draw connections to the recent strangling. And before the first act’s curtain falls Mrs. Ralston discovers Mrs. Boyle dead in a chair in the estate’s living room.
In the play’s concluding act, Trotter begins piecing together further connections to several of the guests and assumes that one of them may likely be the killer. And after a series of incredible plot twists and shocking revelations, the story comes to its joyous conclusion.
Erik Hellman is quite exceptional as Detective Trotter. And while the play’s cast is mostly adequate, playing the exaggerated comedic situations with fine skill, the couple playing the Ralston hosts is decidedly too middle-aged to be believed as a young couple.
The obvious crowd-pleasing “The Mousetrap” continues its run through February 16, 2020. The Court Theatre is located at 5535 S. Ellis Avenue in Chicago, in the University of Chicago campus. The ticket office can be contacted at (773) 753-4472 or go on-line at www.CourtTheatre.org for ticket information.