Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" opened in London in 1952 and continues to run there. The world's longest running play also remains popular with community theaters around the globe. As the Vagabond Players production demonstrates, this murder mystery remains entertaining.
Considered from a sternly logical standpoint, Christie's play suffers from stereotypical characters, a formulaic story and preposterous plot twists. Sternly logical people should avoid this play and the rest of us should avoid them by going to see it.
Christie's simple formula involves placing a group of quirky guests in an isolated country inn, stranding them there when heavy snow closes local roads, making them nervous upon learning about a recent unsolved murder, bringing in a policeman to investigate, and consequently having the guests and the audience alike realize that everybody at the inn seems mighty suspicious.
The young couple who own the inn, Molly Ralston (Ann Turiano) and Giles Ralston (Eric C. Stein), have just opened this place. Even before the radio and newspaper accounts of the murder get everybody worried, the Ralstons' inexperience as innkeepers makes the inn seem unsettled.
Although there is no getting around Christie's superficial character psychology, Turiano helps make this staging seem emotionally grounded. Turiano's peaches-and-cream complexion and earnest performance make you sympathize with wholesome Molly and share her suspicion that maybe she doesn't know Giles as well as she thought she did.
Stein, who also directed this production, firmly conveys Giles' agitation about the murderous intrigue swirling through the inn; however, this actor looks a tad mature to be playing a young husband.
The guests staying at the inn all seem like they might be either guilty of murder or at least guilty of being sufficiently irritating to warrant a short prison sentence.
Let's start with a young fellow, Christopher Wren (Brian M. Kehoe), whose personality is as hyperactive as his hair is uncombed. Has he run away from a murder scene and sought refuge here? Kehoe's gleefully manic performance might be faulted for being over the top in another context, but he's right at home in a play that thrives on broadly theatrical flourishes.
Then there's Mrs. Boyle (Nona Porter), who is so prim and proper that she seems capable of flying off the handle at anybody who doesn't serve tea properly. Porter is enjoyably pompous in this role.
Our next suspect is Major Metcalf (David Morey). He seems like a stable middle-aged guy, but aren't those the ones you can't trust?
As for the assertively unmarried Miss Casewell (April Rejman), her man-tailored outfits and brash personality surely made her suspect for uptight theatergoers in the 1950s. Add to the roster of suspects Mr. Paravacini (Richard McGraw), an enigmatic dandy whose status as a foreigner likewise must have set off alarms for xenophobic theatergoers back then.
When Detective Sgt. Trotter (Adam Bloedorn) finally shows up, he sure has his detective work cut out for him. It's amusing to watch him interrogate everybody staying at the inn or, for that matter, running the place. Trotter is doing in a formal way what we're all doing as we watch the play.
Even those of us who have seen the play before and hence know who done it will have fun considering the extent to which every character qualifies as a valid suspect.
It's something of a "Mousetrap" tradition that those who already know the killer's identity must not reveal it. All I will say is that it wasn't me.
"The Mousetrap" runs through Feb. 3 at Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway in Fells Point. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17- $22. Call 410-563-9135 or go to http://www.vagabondplayers.org.