Another Christmas tradition from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has been unwrapped. This year, it's Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap", the longest-running play in the history of theater. It opened in London in November of 1952, and is still running, moving only once and then to the theater next door, without missing a performance. Richard Attenborough, now Sir Richard and a noted director, was in the original cast, playing Detective Sergeant Trotter.
Is it tired after more than sixty years? Well, only mildly so, as long as you expect light theater rather than serious stuff. It looks quite delicious, with a wonderful set by John Ezell, showing an ancient country house built on an old monastery from Tudor days. (History buffs will want to read Ezell's notes in the program.) The time is a bit after World War II, a young couple has inherited the house and are turning it into a country hotel. This first weekend, a heavy snowstorm has set in as their guests arrive.
But don't think Downton Abbey. In this post-war world, household help is a lady who comes in for the day, rather than a butler - so we may safely assume the butler didn't do it here. And the food sounds ghastly - much discussion of heating up things in "tins", or cans. But the house is large, if chilly, the characters varied and there's far more to be concerned with when the police ring up and say they want to come by for a chat.
Ellen Adair and William Connell as Mollie and Giles Ralston, the young couple, work smoothly, realistically attached to each other. The guests are another matter, and director Paul Mason Barnes allows them to be the caricatures that they easily could have been when the play was first mounted. The detective sergeant, here Christian Pederson, also plays it straight, his looks a reminder of that pesky Viking invasion some centuries back. St. Louis favorite Darrie Lawrence is Mrs. Boyle, intent on telling her hosts how things really ought to be done, the retired Major Metcalf, Michael James Reed, holds back on the Colonel Blimp implications, and Tarah Flanagan's Miss Casewell also underplays, although the script's references to "mannish" (read: butch) merely has her in short hair and Katharine Hepburn trousers.
It's Christopher Wren, played by Sean Mellott, who is so high-strung he literally bounces across the stage, shrieking and wringing his hands when he's not laughing maniacally. And Mr. Paravicini, Larry Paulsen, almost twists his moustache as he subtly taunts everyone and waves his hands in flourishes. Perhaps if they hadn't been played so broadly, the tension about these murders would have been greater.
No, it's not an edge-of-your-seat evening, but it's sufficiently engrossing that much of the talk at intermission was speculation on whodunit. And it's fun, just the thing for a holiday evening or afternoon's diversion. Worth a visit.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Loretto-Hilton Center of Webster University
through December 29