By KATHIE ISAAC-LUKE

For The Union Democrat

Now playing at Murphys Creek Theatre is Agatha Christie’s venerable whodunit, “The Mousetrap.” When it first opened in 1952, no one, including the author, expected it to become the longest continuously running play in history. A play that has garnered over 27,000 performances in London alone must have gotten something right.

One of the major reasons for its success is the carefully crafted plot, of which Christie was a master. Audiences are presented with a puzzle and have fun trying to piece together all the clues. She also is a master of misdirection, throwing in a few red herrings to throw the viewer off track and increase the suspense. “The Mousetrap” is the prototype of many mystery stories which have followed. It has been endlessly imitated and often spoofed.

Watching the play is like taking a journey back in time to an earlier England which focused on conformity and suspected the outsider. It is also a testament to Christie’s understanding of human nature that the characters, apart from a few outdated expressions, are amazingly contemporary and easily recognizable today. These characters are very well written, and their dialogue is infused with humor.

The play has all the ingredients of a classic mystery. A young couple, who have just opened a guest house, are nervously awaiting their first boarders. Outside, a snowstorm is brewing with forecasts of road closures. A radio is repeatedly announcing that a murder has just been committed in nearby London. One by one, an assortment of eccentric guests arrive, and they are soon trapped together by the snowstorm. The audience shortly learns that one of them is a murderer and no one is who they seem.

Director Robbie Allen has meticulously brought together all of the elements of this production with a strong cast and energetic pacing. Allen also plays Giles Ralston, who with his spouse, operates the guest house. Charlie Cites plays his wife, Mollie. Allen and Cites are quite convincing as a couple married for just a year, who apparently don’t know each other as well as they thought.

The first guest to arrive is a young man called Christopher Wren. As played by Rajah Foerstner, Wren is quirky and outspoken and always seems to be tossing back a lock of hair that has fallen into his eyes. It is an amazing performance by Foerstner, a 17-year-old high school student who should certainly have a future in theater.

Presently, the other guests arrive. Mrs. Boyle, an unpleasant and hyper-critical woman is played to perfection by Terry Richardson. Her petulant character proceeds to alienate the other guests.

Another striking performance is given by Vickie Hall as Miss Casewell, a free-spirited, yet mysterious young woman who is given to blunt observations.

In a skillful, understated performance, Michael Crich plays Major Metcalf, a mild-mannered retired military officer.

Michael Mager is very funny as Mr. Paravicini, a shifty character of unknown origin, who arrives after his car is stranded in a snowdrift. The other characters suspect him of faking an accent and wearing makeup.

Sean M. Lewis is impressive as Sergeant Trotter, the intense police detective who arrives on skis and relentlessly tries to unravel the case and catch the murderer.

The carefully detailed set, which depicts an inviting drawing room complete with a crackling fire, is by Micki Dambacher. The authentic costumes, which reflect ’50s England as well as the personality of each character, are by Kathleen Lowe.

I first saw this play in London more years ago than I care to admit. Then as now, the audience is asked to promise never to divulge the surprise ending. I have since never revealed it and will not do so now. To find out how the mystery unfolds, theatergoers will have to experience the play firsthand, while partaking in theater history and being entertained by fine ensemble acting and a well constructed story.

“The Mousetrap” runs through Sept. 30 at Murphys Creek Theatre. For tickets or more information, visit murphyscreektheatre.org or call (209) 728-8422.

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