‘The Mousetrap’ brings mystery, suspense to the Black Box
The longest running show in modern theatrical history, with over 25,000 performances since 1952, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” graced the Washington University Black Box Theatre’s stage this past weekend as Cast N’ Crew’s spring production. To preface this review: “The Mousetrap” has a long-standing tradition, at Christie’s request, of making the surprise twist ending confidential. Audiences (and those reviewing the play) are asked to keep it a secret before the show begins.
As roommate to an actress and a director for Cast N’ Crew, I have seen every CNC production since I first started at Wash. U. in August 2015: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Boeing Boeing,” “The Twilight Zone: Anthology,” “Heathers,” “She Kills Monsters,” “Xanadu” and, now, “The Mousetrap.” Out of all of them, “The Mousetrap” by far brought the most mystique and suspense to the stage through its unique portrayal.
My first exposure to Agatha Christie was in my 7th grade English literature class when we read “And Then There Were None.” Since then, I have read “Murder on the Orient Express,” “The A.B.C. Murders” and “Death on the Nile.” As an obvious fan of Christie’s work, I was excited yet slightly wary to see Cast N’ Crew taking on one of her plays this semester. To me, the best part of a mystery story is being able to slowly unravel the plot as you read, and I was a little concerned about how the secrecy of it all would be maintained onstage, where at times the audience is the only all-knowing participant. The production of “The Mousetrap” blew me away, however, as I found myself genuinely surprised at the end of the 2-hour show.
Set in a 1950s-esque guest house, Monkswell Manor, the play centers around the tenants of the house—Mollie Ralston (played by sophomore Lucie Kirk) and Giles Ralston (played by junior Jordan Dubin) —and their questionable guests on the opening night of their bed and breakfast-type establishment. In the opening scene, we learn of a murder in nearby London, which sets the topic of conversation for the rest of the play.
The first guest to arrive, Christopher Wren—played by freshman Jens Damgaard—stirs the pot with his quirky and, at times, suspicious persona. Damgaard took on the role with ease, conveying Wren’s boundless energy and tenacity. The next, known only as Mrs. Boyle (portrayed by sophomore Zoey Miller), fills the role of the judgmental, cantankerous older woman who refuses to be pleased by the Ralstons or her fellow guests. Two other guests, Major Metcalf (sophomore Ben Hartmann) and Miss Casewell (freshman Chloe White), fill more minor roles for the majority of the show, but regardless hold their own as distinct characters.
About halfway through the first act, a surprise patron arrives. Mr. Paravicini, performed by senior Scott Greenberg, injects the show with a dose of humor and energy. His flashy, extravagant persona—he only arrives at the manor after crashing his Rolls Royce in a snowbank—creates a distraction from the often tense questioning on behalf of Detective Sgt. Trotter (junior Nathan Mester).
Without revealing too much of the plot, the characters engage in a delicate balance of interrogation led by Trotter’s confident, careful nature and periods of self-reflection, offering insight to their true intentions and dubious backgrounds. One of my favorite parts of the show was the continuation of certain motifs throughout. In the opening scene, a radio blares out describing a recent murder in London. Later, the same broadcast turns on again, which a group of characters read about in a newspaper. Throughout the show, the radio acts as a point of conversation or contention between combinations of characters. Similarly, tied to the murder, the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice,” often played on the piano by Mr. Paravicini, transforms into a haunting tune to foreshadow following events.
The set design created the delightful illusion of a larger house by hinting at the existence of faraway rooms: One character would go play piano while another leaves to write letters in the library. By taking advantage of the design, the show’s producers were able to expand the mystery beyond the close quarters of the Black Box, which at times can feel constricting in other productions. During intermission, director and junior Maddie Seibold asked audience members to cast their predictions for the identity of the murderer on a board outside the theater, further expanding the play’s reach.
“The Mousetrap’s” distinguished history, with the added task of maintaining a 65-year-old secret, made it an ambitious choice for Cast N’ Crew to take on within the bounds of a college theater group. I found myself delighted by the variety across the characters in the production and enthralled by the genuine mystery of it all.