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Theatre Review

Raleigh Little Theatre: A Quarter-Century Later, RLT's Revival of The Mousetrap Is A Tremendous Production, Directed by Haskell Fitz-Simons

October 7, 2006 - Raleigh, NC:

Warning: This review contains SPOILERS, and might best be read AFTER viewing The Mousetrap.—R.W.M.

Raleigh Little Theatre believes that a fine play bears repeating; thus, they are bringing back a show they did 25 years ago, The Mousetrap by Dame Agatha Christie. This thriller is the longest continuously-running play of all time; it opened in London on Nov. 25, 1952, and is still running today, at the St. Martin’s Theatre. A murder mystery played with both humor and high melodrama, The Mousetrap differs from your run-of-the-mill thriller in that, unlike most, murder has already occurred when the curtain comes up.

Interestingly enough, the murder, which takes place in downtown London near Paddington Station, seems to have little to do with the remote location where we find ourselves: Monkswell Manor, a well-built and stolid old country estate in the moors of England, a full two hours from London. The house has been newly purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Giles Ralston (Jon Karnofsky and Collette Rutherford), who have planned to turn the lovely locale into a Guest House. It is a bit much for the two of them, in that just about the only thing they have going for them is enthusiasm, and it is waning fast. Married only a year, neither of them has any experience running a hotel; and with the house opening today, they have a full roster of brand-new guests paying a pretty penny (in November of 1952, that translates to seven guineas a week) for full room and board and having all their creature comforts met.

Despite their reservations, if you will, the Ralstons meet their incoming guests bravely. The first to arrive is Christopher Wren (Jason Justice), named specifically after the architect, in the hopes, according to him, that he will follow in the famous man’s footsteps. He is young and high-strung and thoroughly entranced by the old place. As such, Mrs. Ralston—Mollie—finds she likes him immediately. This causes Giles to dislike him just as quickly. Wren is preceded, however, by a crippling blizzard that continues to fall as the other guests arrive—in a dazzling display that brings kudos for set designer Roger Bridges. Coming in short order through the falling snow are Mrs. Boyle (Marty Smith), Major Metcalf (Phil Lewis), and Miss Casewell (Anna Nersesian). There being only four guest rooms available, this seems to be the lot. But a pounding on the door brings in another stranger, Mr. Paravacini (John T. Hall), who gratefully finds the home quite nearby his now-disabled automobile. As his luck holds out, there is a small additional room available; and the five assembled guests and their hosts settle in for what they believe will be a long winter’s nap.

All are grateful that the lights, heat (such as it is), and telephone hold up against the blizzard; Mollie, however, is rattled by a phone call, quite unexpected, from the local constabulary. The inspector has called to advise the Ralstons that a Detective Sergeant Trotter (Pepper Jobe) is on his way to the Manor, for the purposes of bringing to the house news of the murder in London, and instructions—which should be followed to the letter—on how they should proceed. This causes all sorts of consternation among the hosts and their guests, since no one can imagine how they can possibly be related to said crime. Although they believe that the Sergeant will never make it under these conditions, he soon announces himself by pounding on the window, having arrived via cross-country skis.

Since she is the absolute most grim and seemingly unhappy of the entire cast, we are almost grateful when, at the end of Act I, Mrs. Boyle meets her maker in exactly the same way the woman was murdered in London—by strangulation. This brings Trotter to a fever pitch, because he knows—as do we all, now—that there will be another murder committed unless he can stop it. To do this, however, he needs the help of the guests; and they are, even now, most reluctant to give him anything.

What one must remember in a good mystery is that one must take not a soul at face value, and this is of course true here. No one is being entirely honest, as each and every one has some secret to conceal. This horror pits guest against guest, and even host against host, as jealousy and secrecy cause even the Ralstons to distrust each other. This cast, under the direction of Haskell Fitz-Simons, plays the script with the serious camp required, as inside jokes are played, and the usual suspicion is cast upon each in turn.

There is very little to distract the viewer in this well-knit production. The set meets the customary high standards of RLT, revealing secret passages, doors, and even a trap door for the guests to discover. And each of these RLT veterans brings superb skills to the creation of character. The one new face to Raleigh theatergoers is Anna Nersesian, a native Californian who brings a long resume with her from the West. Thus, we are left to point out only the small items we noticed that would make for a better production, such as the fact that those entering should have snow on them, or the obvious tendency for accents to slip. Particularly fine performances are turned in by Collette Rutherford as Mollie and Pepper Jobe as the detective, but our nomination for best portrayal of a Brit goes to Phil Lewis as the Major.

All in all, this is a tremendous production, especially if it has been a while since you last saw The Mousetrap or, better still, if you have not. This play is a classic, to be sure, with complications and red herrings aplenty, and a great chance to sharpen your detection skills. Dame Agatha leaves us with yet another breathtaking surprise if we do not correctly gather the clues. Either way, you are in for some great fun!

Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Mousetrap Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 12-14 and 19-21, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 15 and, at 3 p.m. in RLT’s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $17 Thursday, Friday, and Sunday ($13 students and seniors 62+) and $21 Saturday. 919/821-3111 or etix at the presenters' site. NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/mousetrap.html [inactive 7/07]. Agatha Christie: http://uk.agathachristie.com/site/home/ (official web site). The Mousetrap: http://www.vpsmvaudsav.co.uk/ (St. Martin's Theatre) and http://uk.agathachristie.com/site/about_christie/christie_on_stage/the_mousetrap.php [inactive 2/07] (official Agatha Christie web site).