Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” in production now at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley, is as full of cliches as it is surprises.
There’s a storm, and strangers are gathered in one place. Someone is killed, and it’s apparent that one of the guests is the murderer. People say things along the lines of “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today” and “We’ve got to catch him before he strikes again!” If the play had a butler, you can rest assured he’d be the murderer.
Of course, these are only cliches in mystery stories because countless writers have copied Agatha Christie; when she started using them, they weren’t cliches yet.
Nonetheless, to an audience that has seen countless quaint old murder mysteries, the conventions of the genre may seem a bit dated, regardless of whether they were fresh or not when the play was written.
It doesn’t help that “The Mousetrap” is a play that forces you to keep watching just so you can find out who the murderer is. There’s never any great suspense over it, nor are we particularly concerned for the well-being of any of the as-yet unkilled characters. We keep watching because of the little plot twists — like the police sergeant re-enacting everything that happened just prior to the murder, only with everyone playing someone else’s part.
Giles (Brook Robinson) and Mollie Ralston (Eden Benson) own a bed-and-breakfast sort of place in 1940s England. Several guests arrive just as a blizzard sets in, with news of a murder having just occurred in town. Seems that years ago, three young children were taken from their parents and sent to a foster home that proved to be abusive and neglectful. One child died; the surviving boy and girl have disappeared from society, and it would seem that one of them is taking revenge on the abusive foster parents, as well as (possibly) others who were directly or indirectly responsible for their being sent to live there.
A clue at the crime scene suggests that someone at the Ralstons’ inn will be the next victim — but who among them had any connection to those children, so many years ago?
Well, it’s obvious Mollie is involved somehow, because she starts acting outrageously nervous as soon as the matter is brought up by Sergeant Trotter (JaceSon Parker Barrus). If the script calls for her to seem unsettled, director John Adams ought to have helped Benson find a more subtle way of expressing it. No one else ever gets that flustered, including the murderer himself/herself.
The acting is uneven throughout the cast, in fact. Clara Susan Morey II is marvelously pompous as the dour Mrs. Bogle, and Heather Ferrel gives the mysterious Miss Casewell a nice, exotic air; but at the same time, John Sweeney is too over-the-top loopy as eccentric Christopher Wren, and Glen A. Carpenter sounds neither looks nor sounds the slightest bit Italian as the Italian Mr. Paravicini.
“The Mousetrap” has been running in London for 48 years. With some better acting and more suspenseful direction, the rather stale Hale Centre Theatre production could be just as good.
Sure, it's interesting, at the end, to find out who the murderer is. It's no "Sixth Sense" ending, but it is satisfying.
One very entertaining thing about this show was that the music played before each act, to heighten suspense, was the theme from "Gremlins." It was very effective in setting the mood; it was just funny to hear it in that context.