- Written by Agatha Christie
- Directed by John Going
- Produced at Olney Theatre
- Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
How does the longest running show in the history of London’s famed West End, one that has been performed on Broadway and throughout America for decades still have enough punch to keep ‘em guessing for yet another run? It’s the well-crafted writing and great casting that make this show a keeper. Agatha Christie sets the tone, a good director keeps the action flowing and the audience guessing. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good old fashioned murder mystery every now and then?
Christie sets up the premise with a natural breezy ease-a pair of newlyweds try their luck at refashioning an old mansion into a guest house. While they’re still learning about each other, they discover the strange eccentricities of their guests, and get caught up in the fray when one of them ends up murdered and sprawled over the couch, thus sparking the grandmother of all “Whodunits.” Christie shows why she’s considered the master storyteller in this genre, starting off with basic premises of motivation and opportunity that have been emulated on shows from Columbo to Murder She Wrote, even Curtains currently on Broadway, only better.
What makes the production work is a clear sketch of all the characters and their possible motivations. Christie provides just a few general brush strokes and it’s up to actors to make them work, which this cast does admirably with body outlining chalk tape to spare. Olney regular Julie-Ann Elliott plays Mrs. Mollie Rolston, the wife, with just enough endearing affect mixed with daring to fit the bill. She is perfectly matched by Olney newcomer Scott Barrow who brings a debonair grace to the husband’s role, forming a truly matched set. The other fun characters to watch are the always reliable Paul Morella as the mysteriously accented stranger, Mr. Paravicini, Jeffries Thaiss as a rather goofy and easy to pick on Christopher Wren, and MaryBeth Wise, fresh from her Helen Hayes nomination for The Miracle Worker playing against type as a subdued, trousered and gruff silent woman with a secret. Which they all have in abundance. That’s the point, to figure out enough of the back story to reveal the guilty party to snap, in a mousetrap.
Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the experiences of the past shape and reveal the characters’ current realities. Along with being a master story teller, Christie’s work reveals a fascinating psychological interest, not too deep, just enough to add a layer of meaning to explanations and motivations. Plus, there’s that excellent writing and expert craftsperson’s artistry at work. When Mollie first enters hiding a shopping purchase in the bureau, the meaning of that simple act is not revealed until the end of the show. Christie wraps up each moment with care and with the same attentiveness that she devotes to character development.
The newlyweds go on a theatrical journey from sweet, dutiful lovers, to put upon proprietors, to harsh accusers or defenders of suspects/guests, to finally doubting each other’s sincerity and veracity. It’s quite a journey, timelessly interesting to watch with a good director at the helm orchestrating these sketchy psychological studies. Director and four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee John Going is ideal in handling these layered explorations. His highly praised rendition of Doubt this season, I Am My Own Wife among others last season, and other selections throughout the years reflect keen facility with a characters’ psychological underpinning to explain not only why they tick and do what they do, but who might be ready to snap, as does one of the guests at the Manor. In Mousetrap, Going uses playful touches for a fun and light-hearted affair, just watch the curtain call.
As with other Olney productions, the breathtaking set, this one designed by James Wolk is irresistibly effective with broad expansive wood paneling, gallantly worn furnishings, and a to-die-for picture window relaying the blustering winds and falling snow outside cast in hues of gentle glowing blue, giving you the urge to curl up in the window sill reading for hours.
More like a comfy puzzle rather than a taut thriller, this production easily proves why Mousetrap, first produced in 1952, holds the title as the longest running play in the world, and rightly so. This classic gets first class treatment at Olney.
- Running Time: 2:00 with intermission
- When: Thru July 6th, Wedn – Saturday at 8, and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm; Sunday 7:30.
- Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD
- Tickets: $30
Call: 301.924.3400 or consult the website.