In 1985, the movie “Clue” jumpstarted interest in “who-done-its,” and video games and cartoons like “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” further impressed upon Millennials the crime-murder mystery as a niche, but beloved genre.
A Millennial myself, I felt the same excitement I did as a kid during the latest production of “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie at Citadel Theatre. Directed by Scott Westerman, this “Mousetrap” locks you in with knife-wielding maniacs, blood-curdling screams, zippy dialogue and brain-tingling riddles.
Sure, you’ve seen similar stuff before, but this is the foundation of the style, called “THE genre-defining murder mystery… case closed!” A critic of the inaugural 1952 performance in London’s West End wrote that each character was “built entirely of clichés,” and they are, but this weakness is really a strength, which gives actors a close liaison with their roles, guided by boundaries that can be stretched to their limits.
Unlike the movie “Clue,” the cast members of “The Mousetrap” are more than anthropomorphized colors.
Guests arrive in the lobby of Monkswell Manor, a large renovated guesthouse reopened by Mollie (Mary Margaret McCormack) and Giles Ralston (Jack Sharkey). As a blizzard engulfs the countryside, the house is filled with a clientele most eclectic.
Mrs. Boyle (Kristie Berger) is an obdurate old biddy who delights in being dull.
Christopher Wren (Jesús Barajas) is a puckish imp with a devious smile who likes to cause trouble.
Leaning heavily on the fourth wall, Mr. Paravicini (Reginald Hemphill) is a suspiciously impromptu guest who snarls with tongue in cheek, “You don’t know me! I could be a KILLER! BWA-HA-HA-HA!”
Retired military man Major Metcalf (William Ryder) and aloof Miss Casewell (Amy Stricker) slink in and out of the background, watching and listening for… something. Not much is known of them, and perhaps they are not who they appear to be.
The trap is set when they receive word that there is a killer on the loose, a deranged psychopath obsessed with the macabre nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice.” Their worst nightmares are confirmed after the grisly murder of one of the guests.
As the snowstorm severs the phone lines, Detective Sergeant Trotter (Sean Erik Wesslund) bursts in and begins a thorough investigation, confirming everyone’s suspicions that a resident in the guesthouse is the murderer.
It’s up to Mollie and Giles to put together the pieces of the puzzle, but after discovering that each harbors a secret of their own, they can’t even trust each other.
Video by cinematographer Ian Merritt and displayed on LCD screens adds a fun, interactive element to the production. One large screen acts as a bay window showing characters skiing across the snowy woodland. Others act like mirrors with prerecorded reflections for the actors to match, or flames that flicker beneath a fireplace mantle, or show close-ups of pieces of evidence. This use of technology gives the show a modern update without spoiling the specific style of the 1950s period.
Snap, you’re caught! Once ensnared in this tangled web of deception you’ll be locked in until the twist ending. Get a clue and check out this charming production of “The Mousetrap” at Citadel Theatre.
“The Mousetrap” runs through October 15 at Citadel Theatre, 300 South Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. Tickets are $40-$45, with discounts for industry, military and seniors here.