This year marks not one, but two, Diamond Jubilees in Britain. For sixty years, Queen Elizabeth has held the throne, and The Mousetrap has been running in London's West End. Agatha Christie's mystery is the longest continuously running play on the globe. University Theatre now offers its take in a production that opened Friday night in Vilas Hall's Mitchell Theatre.
The Mousetrap's early-1950s setting was contemporary when the play premiered; now it gives the show a patina of postwar nostalgia. And that's just fine: part of the appeal of this "cozy" genre of mysteries lies in quaint settings. In this case, the action takes place over two days at Monkswell Manor, a grand guest house in the country. Mollie and Giles Ralston are a young couple who inherited the property from Mollie's aunt. Now, they're having a go as novice innkeepers.
A winter weekend brings more excitement than the Ralstons bargained for. There's been a murder in London and the killer is on the loose, possibly headed to Monkswell Manor. A snowstorm leaves them housebound with their odd collection of guests. With the phone line dead (cut?), the atmosphere at Monkswell shifts from cheery to creepy.
The Mousetrap's twist ending - which of course I won't reveal here - has remained a surprisingly well-kept secret among theater audiences.
On the whole, director David Furumoto sticks to the spirit of Christie's script, a classic whodunit. Music that sounds straight from an old movie begins the show (part of Jeffrey Parulski's sound design), signaling to us that this isn't a radical update. William F. Moser's set design is quite handsome, all damask curtains and rich wood paneling, and Jim Greco's costumes match each character's nature perfectly.
By current standards, the pacing is more leisurely than edge-of-your-seat. Where Furumoto's direction seems to depart from others' approaches is in his willingness to amp up certain characters. Christopher Wren (played by Aaron Heaps) is a prime example of this. He's an odd, childish young man with long blond curls, velvet blazers and ruffled cuffs. ("Oh! I like murder!" he blurts at one point, but he expresses similar enthusiasm for nursery rhymes and home décor.) Heaps' performance straddles the line between caricature, annoyance and comic relief - but, in all fairness, the lines he's given are hard to make believable.
Characters like Mrs. Boyle (Ely Phan), a haughty older woman who complains constantly about the manor's accommodations, are less outlandish. Though obviously far younger than her character, Phan carries herself just right for a woman of this age and station in life.
As innkeepers Mollie and Giles, Niccole Carner and Stuart Mott make a good team. I was impressed with Carner's perfect diction (seriously - I wish all actors were this easy to understand). And as the oddball Mr. Paravicini, Cedric Wesley shows great comic timing and an ability to make audiences laugh with the subtlest of touches.
In an era of modernized, special-effects-boosted mysteries (such the BBC television series Sherlock), The Mousetrap can be a tough sell. But for those who enjoy mysteries in the classic mold, Agatha Christie's chestnut certainly fits that bill.