Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Caught by Surprise: Court Theatre's Take on Agatha Christie's 'The Mousetrap' is Nicely Twisted -- Chicago Theater Review

Theatre Review

The Mousetrap
by Agatha Christie
directed by Sean Graney
Court Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 16

Beyond family and friends, two of the things that have most given my life meaning are travel and theater.

In 1993, I went to Europe for the first time--primarily visiting London and Paris, with some day trips--and in the former, I went to a play called The Mousetrap.

At that point, the whodunit by famed mystery writer Agatha Christie had been running since 1952--and 27 years later it continues to.

I believe it to be the first play I attended post-college and fully of my own volition

Numerous overseas trips have now followed, and hundreds of plays (and even more musicals, as I also saw one of those in London in '93: City of Angels).

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
So beyond the universal noteworthiness of The Mousetrap being the longest-running play in history--in terms of still being in its original production--I have a good amount of personal sentimentality for it.

Fortunately, in seeing the show anew in a stellar production at Court Theatre--an acclaimed professional theater on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park--my memory had long since erased remembrance the culprit and various plot twists.

Though, as I watched the play--directed here by Sean Graney with quite a bit of comic flair--some
embers of recollection flickered in the fireplace at the back of my brain.

I kind of remembered a few of the key elements, though not the mystery's full resolution.

And while I'm going to be quite circumspect in what I reveal, The Mousetrap largely ensnared me, keeping me both pleasantly entertained and wondering how the suspense would unfold.

On a wintry English evening, a ways outside London, sunny Mollie Ralston (the always delightful Kate Fry) and her easily agitated husband Giles (Allen Gilmore, another Chicago stalwart) are preparing to welcome guests to their newly opened guest house, Monkswell Manor.

With radio news of a London murder initially getting little attention, those who arrive include quirky Christopher Wren, namesake of the famed British architect (Alex Goodrich, clearly enjoying himself in the role), opinionated Mrs. Boyle (Carol Ann Hoerdemann), aloof Miss Casewell (Tina Muñoz Pandya), prim Major Metcalf (Lyonel Reneau) and flamboyant Mr. Paravinci (a swell David Cerda).

Later, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Erik Hellman) shows up.

I don't know how much of this is written into Christie's script or long part & parcel of the London production, but Graney makes sure each of the characters is rather pronounced, even considerably over-the-top.

This not only enables us to readily distinguish who's who when the mystery starts to unfold, but makes for lively fun--and even a touch of camp--throughout.

Well beyond some built-in nostalgia, I really enjoyed watching The Mousetrap, and despite some "oh, yeah" flashbacks, was predominantly puzzled, mostly in a good way.

I have no substantive criticisms of the piece or production, except to say that I wasn't fully satisfied or clear about the ending, and unsure if it perfectly followed what came before.

Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all-time, and had written dozens of mysteries--including a few plays--prior to The Mousetrap, which clearly has been rather successful (in London and far beyond) across its 67+ years in existence.

So I'll just take it on faith that any narrative confusion is on me, and not Christie, Graney or any of the excellent cast.

And, particularly for those who have never seen it, my recommendation isn't much mitigated by  details of the denouement, even if you too find them a bit confounding.

For over its nearly 2-1/2 hours (with intermission), The Mousetrap offers enough to gleefully pull you in and keep you there.

If you do see it and get everything sorted out, let's talk. 

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