Mousetrap a Mystery in More Ways Than One

Michael Beltran, Andrew Foote, Erin Esposito and David Sitler

On October 25 Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap will celebrate 50 years of continuous performances in London. It has also played all over the world of course and right now it's playing at The Surflight Theater.

I can understand why the Surflight chose to produce it. It's got brand name recognition and a reputation as a crowd-pleaser. What I can't understand is why it has enjoyed a 50-year run while so many other excellent plays have come and gone.

Is it because The Mousetrap is a bad play? No. The Mousetrap is a good play and I think you'll enjoy it. I just can't see what the fuss is all about. For example, The Mousetrap can be compared to the play that preceded it at the Surflight, Neil Simon's Rumors, which is also a mystery of sorts. At the Surflight the casts of the two plays were even identical. If both plays had premiered on the same night and I had to guess which one would still be playing in 50 years I would have guessed hands down that Rumors would be the survivor. Of course I guessed wrong on whom the murderer in The Mousetrap is so perhaps I'm not such a great guesser.

Why am I surprised that The Mousetrap has survived so long? Mostly because it demands a lot of its audience. I can understand the popularity it must have enjoyed when it premiered in 1952. The UK was only a few years removed from WW II and the country enjoyed a first rate educational system, especially for the theater-going upper class. So you had an audience without a lot of entertainment alternatives and the intelligence to appreciate Christie's deft plotting.

But nowadays we're spoiled. We've got 100 channel cable TV, radio, DVDs, CDs, video games, the Internet, giant bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders and so much more vying for our attention. I'm a pretty smart guy but the only time I give a piece of entertainment my undivided attention is when I go (all too rarely) to a movie theater and when I see a play at the Surflight. At home I'm an inveterate multi-tasker, often going over the newspaper or reading a book or cruising the Web while I have the TV on as sort of background radiation. In other words I frequently don't give a story my undivided attention.

Of course at the theater I always give a play my undivided attention but The Mousetrap demands more than that. You have to really think. And stay alert. Miss a line and you can miss a crucial plot point. And I sometimes did miss a line. The Surflight doesn't use its wireless PA system for its plays as it did for its summer musicals. I sometimes found the little microphones hanging down from behind the actors' ears a little distracting but we were rewarded with exceptionally clear and loud audio.

In addition, I think the English accents the play demands attenuate the actors' voices some. In Rumors Aransas Thomas' booming voice reached to the rear row of the auditorium. In The Mousetrap, I sometimes had to cock my head to hear her Mrs. Boyle, a little old English lady.

And speaking of bad guesses, I would have never guessed that the actress who played the loud, urbane and sexy Clare Ganz of Rumors was the same one playing the provincial, aged and cranky Mrs. Boyle. In a similar vein we have Ivy Jean Miller, who played the glamorous Miss Turnstiles in On The Town and a sexy Cassie Cooper in Rumors here playing the strangely butch Miss Casewell. This kind of 180-degree turn really tests an actor's range and Thomas and Miller pass with honors. Erin Esposito's role as innkeeper Molly Ralston is much less demanding but Esposito is always so appealing, who cares?

In the male half of the cast the standout is Michael Beltran's weirdly charming Mr. Paravicini. Andrew Foote is a fey Christopher Wren and Vince Urbani is a stolid Major Metcalf. David Sitler as the archetypal British husband Giles Ralston and Jeffrey Biering as Sergeant Trotter, the police officer who sets out to solve the mystery, round out the cast.

So will you be able to solve the mystery of The Mousetrap before the characters do? You'll have to concentrate and pay close attention to stand a chance. If you do you just might solve a puzzle that audiences may still be pondering 50 years from now.

Evening performances run through September 29, 2002 at 8:00 p.m.