Before seeing “The Mousetrap” at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton last weekend, I knew only two things about it: (1) It was written by mystery queen Agatha Christie and (2) it had been running in the West End of London forever (since 1952, to be exact).
And so, it had always been a mystery to me. Doesn’t a run of 64 years — the longest in the history of the world — imply that some people are coming back to see it more than once? And why would people do that if, after the first time, they know whodunnit?
Now I understand. The play’s primary appeal isn’t its mystery: In fact, though the story is a good one, it’s probably not a smart idea to spend too much time thinking about all the twists and turns, become some of them simply don’t make much sense. The best thing about “The Mousetrap” is its deliciously eccentric characters: the nervous young antiques enthusiast Christopher Wren (played here by Andy Phelan), who was named after the famous architect; the eternally dissatisfied hotel guest Mrs. Boyle (Sandra Shipley), who throws a fit when the hotel owner dares to vacuum after lunch; the self-satisfied, almost goofy bon vivant Mr. Paravicini (Thom Sesma); the mysterious, mannish Miss Casewell (Emily Young).
They are all staying at a guesthouse (what Americans would now call a bed and breakfast) named Monkswell Manor. And after one of the characters is murdered, while a blizzard makes it impossible for anyone to leave, the others all seem suspicious. But what about guesthouse owners Giles and Mollie Ralston (Adam Green and Jessica Bedford), who both seem to be hiding secrets, too? Or the final guest, the dignified military veteran, Major Metcalf (Graeme Malcolm)? He doesn’t seem like a murderer, but this is an Agatha Christie story. Can you count him out?
Det. Sgt. Trotter (Richard Gallagher) arrives on skis and takes charge, grilling the suspects individually and collectively. All is, of course, eventually revealed.
Following the London tradition, audience members are asked, after the play is over, not to reveal the ending to anyone.
Director Adam Immerwahr has put together a straightforward but quite satisfying production, and set designer Alexander Dodge does a good job at conjuring the fusty charm of Monkswell Manor’s Great Hall, where all the action takes place. As far as the actors go, Phelan and Sesma have the most opportunities to generate laughs — their characters are so absurd they seem to have stepped right out of a Monty Python sketch — and they nail every one.
I doubt that what you’ve been able to see in London for 64 years is any better than what you can see now in Princeton — through March 27, only. Visit mccarter.org.