An Arthritic "Mousetrap"

By Geary Danihy

Alas, “The Mousetrap” is showing its age.

The venerable murder mystery by Dame Agatha Christie, which holds the record for the longest initial run (over 24,000 performances and still going strong at the St. Martin’s Theatre in London), now seems to be weighted down with stereotypical characters and a pedestrian plot riddled with inconsistencies.

Watching the play’s latest incarnation at Stratford’s Square One Theatre, one can only marvel at the play’s longevity, for what was once deemed riveting now borders on the farcical, what with lines that evoke comments people might make while playing the board game Clue (the colonel in the library with the candlestick) and characters played so broadly, at least in this production, one can’t help but compare the goings on to the intentional silliness of “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”

The plot is pure Christie: a group of people, ostensibly unknown to each other, gather together at a location that soon becomes isolated (in this case, by a snow storm). Murder ensues and the hunt is on for the perpetrator. Who amongst the survivors did the deed, and will he (or she) strike again before all is resolved?

It’s a tried and true formula, and can still command one’s attention. However, in this production, one’s attention is often diverted by performances that border on the bromidic. The problem is that when asked to play characters so broadly drawn, actors have to “play it straight” or run the risk of coming off as little more than cartoons. Several cast members succeed at this, most notably Davina Porter as Mrs. Boyle, the crotchety retired judge who delights in finding fault. Porter keeps her character in check, displaying quirks without letting them rule her performance.

The same can be said for Jeremy Funke as Sergeant Trotter, Janet Rathert as Miss Casewell and Matthew K. Gutierrez as Giles Ralston. However, their efforts are set against that of others who keep calling attention to themselves – they might as well be wearing signs around their necks proclaiming the stereotypes they are portraying. What with all of the “Hrrrrumphing,” evil laughter, eyebrow fluttering and flamboyant mincing, this production teeters on the brink of farce. A bit of restraint demanded by director Tom Holehan would have gone a long way to making these goings-on are a bit more believable.

However, there’s really not much you can do with a plot that, if attended to with any degree of skepticism, engenders such thoughts as: “Yes, but if that’s true then…”; “Okay, but then why does he…?”; and “Are we really being asked to believe that…?” Contrivance is piled upon contrivance until the vehicle begins to creak and crack. Perhaps arguing about obvious holes in the plot over post-theater cocktails is the primary source of pleasure now to be found in viewing “The Mousetrap.”

Like an aging athlete who unwisely wishes to play just one more season, “The Mousetrap” can’t help but evoke a bit of sadness at what once was and can never be again.

“The Mousetrap” runs through Sunday, Nov. 20. For tickets or more information call 203-375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com 

This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen-News.

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