Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" shines at Vagabond Players

Theater Review

  • Mollie Ralston (Ann Turiano, left) and Christopher Wren (Brian Kehoe) in the Vagabond Players' production of "The Mousetrap."
Mollie Ralston (Ann Turiano, left) and Christopher Wren (Brian… (Fred Mainolfi, Handout…)
January 09, 2013|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

By now, 60 long years after Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” opened in London, the whodunit is more of a fixture than a stage show.

It apparently cannot ever be stopped on that side of The Pond, where it has surpassed the 25,000th performance mark and still holds firmly onto the record as the world’s longest-running play.

On our shores, the work never became such an institution, but it still continues to attract attention now and then, particularly from community theater groups.

One of them, the Vagabond Players, has a production running now that finds decent mileage still left in this juicy little murder mystery set in a country guest house where coincidence and cunning collide one snowy night.

Those who have never seen “The Mousetrap” — and have not peeked on the Web to learn the final plot twist — should have the best time. But even those in the know will likely find enough to enjoy.

The Vagabond staging is ... 

directed with a mostly sure, fleet touch by Eric C. Stein. He also does a dynamic turn playing Giles, one of the innkeepers who get much more than they bargained for when they decide to open Monkswell Manor.

Giles’ other half, Molly (Ann Turiano), is not just new to the hotel trade, but still relatively new to marriage, meaning there just might be a secret or two she has yet to uncover about her husband — and one or two he might want to know about her.

Molly has good reason to worry that the first guests at Monkswell Manor may be unpleasant or odd. The blizzard blows quite an assortment of colorful characters into the lodge, all potential suspects once it becomes clear that something murderous has entered with them.

Part of what keeps “The Mousetrap” snappy is that mix of humanity, starting with the foppish, impossibly named Christopher Wren (Brian M. Kehoe), who says he’s an architect.

He’s just the tip of an iceberg that soon reveals the stuffy Mrs. Boyle; a retired military officer, the reserved Major Metcalf; a mannish woman named Miss Casewell; an unexpected foreigner, Mr. Paravacini; and the inevitable policeman, Det. Sgt. Trotter.

The plot, which has its roots in an ugly, real-life crime reported from the English countryside in 1945, holds up well, if you don’t spend too much time analyzing it — and, as with so much mystery fiction, if you don’t mind a maze of improbable interconnections.

The Vagabonds throw themselves eagerly into the proceedings, bringing with them generally persuasive accents that help put the finishing touch on the cutely evocative set.

Turiano makes a charming, sensitive Molly, conveying the young woman’s nervous delight in the inn-keeping adventure and her subsequent realization that all’s not well. Turiano and Stein also generate some nice chemistry, as much with little romantic sparks as with growing anxiety.

Kehoe is quite a chirpy Wren, nervously flouncing about the place, flashing his loud tartan socks as he goes. If the actor gets a little too close to going over the top now and then, he certainly gives the production a welcome electric charge.

Mrs. Boyle seems to be the prototype for the perpetually unsatisfied guest on a great “Fawlty Towers” episode, the lady expecting a much more exciting room than a humble establishment could ever provide. Nona Porter has fun with the role, especially articulating the character’s annoying snobbery (“The lower classes have no idea of their responsibilities”).

April Rejman impresses as Miss Casewell, especially in the second act, when the truth melts the young woman’s rigid exterior. Adam Bloedorn proves to be another asset in a wiry, vibrant turn as Trotter.

As Paravacini, Richard McGraw could use more nuance (and an accent that doesn’t sound like he comes from a little known Swedish region of Italy). David Morey gets the job done neatly as Metcalf. If “The Mousetrap” creaks or drags a little, it can still deliver the kick expected of a vintage Christie mystery, which the Vagabond staging reconfirms.

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