Chicago Theatre Review
To Catch a Killer
The Mousetrap – Northlight Theatre
The Grandfather of all theatrical chillers, Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, still playing 62 years later in London, has the distinction of being the longest running play of the modern era. With well over 25,000 performances to its credit, Ms. Christie’s crime drama is a favorite with regional and educational theatres. The Guinness Book of World Records calls Dame Agatha Christie the best-selling crime novelist of all time, but in 1930 she began a second career as a successful playwright. From over a dozen scripts, which include “Ten Little Indians” (or its original title “And Then There Were None”) and “Witness for the Prosecution,” it’s “The Mousetrap” that remains Agatha Christie’s most popular theatrical work.
The Queen of Crime employed a number of plot devices in her works that have since become almost cliche. She had a fondness for naming her plays and novels after seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhymes (“The Mousetrap” was originally entitled “Three Blind Mice”). The stories usually unfold with a murder being committed, several suspects possessing hidden information being assembled and a detective gradually discovers and reveals these confidences during the course of the evening. Surprising twists are uncovered and, most often, the unlikeliest character turns out to be the culprit. Such is the case with this play.
In this second production of Northlight’s 40th season, Jonathan Berry has directed a fresh, snappy version of this 1952 melodrama that feels like a brand new play. Working within Jack Magaw’s detailed, authentic-looking English guesthouse setting, dominated by a towering paned window that looks out onto a freezing blizzard, Mr. Berry guides his characters through doorways and hidden staircases that lead to an assortment of other unseen rooms. Delightful details, like an offstage playing piano, a clanking heating system and the constantly falling snow, add so much realism to Berry’s production. Izumi Inaba’s 1950’s period costumes are appropriately layered for winter wear and constructed from iconic English tweeds.
A magnificent cast, thanks to great direction, have mined every tick and subtlety from their characters. As Mollie and Giles Ralston, the newlywed couple trying to turn an old, inherited home into a guesthouse, Cora Vander Broek and Keith Neagle are excellent. They convince as a young couple still in love but constantly discovering new things about each other. Joey de Bettencourt, fresh off the National Tour of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” is once again magical as another boy reluctant to grow up, the bizarre, hyperactive Christopher Wren. Joe Dempsey, so excellent in Drury Lane’s recent “…Spelling Bee,” provides much of the play’s comedy as a mysterious, unexpected Italian guest, Mr. Paravicini. Chicago veteran actor Patrick Clear is finely grounded, dignified and unruffled as Major Metcalf. Laura T. Fisher is superb as crusty, ill-tempered Mrs. Boyle. Lindsey Pearlman takes direct charge, but still offers a mysterious, vulnerable quality to her manly Miss Casewell. And Greg Matthew Anderson is absolutely brilliant as Sergeant Trotter, the officer sent upon skis to brave the elements and search for a possible murderer at Monkswell Manor.
This production is as cheeky and contemporary-feeling as when it first hit the boards in London. A welcome change from the typical holiday fare, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, set in a rural wintry retreat, offers a perfect evening entertainment, filled with humor, startling plot twists, charismatic characters and just the right amount of chill to catch a killer.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 7-December 14 by Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.
Tickets are available at the theatre box office, by calling 847-673-6300 or by going to www.northlight.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.