'The Mousetrap': Best of the Who-Done-Its

The Citadel ensemble has brought compelling performances to this classic Agatha Christie mystery.
'The Mousetrap': Best of the Who-Done-Its
(L–R) Christopher Wren (Jesús Barajas), Mollie Ralston (Mary Margaret McCormack), Maj. Metcalf (William Ryder), Detective Sgt. Trotter (Sean Erik Wesslund), Miss Casewell (Amy Stricker), Giles Ralston (Jack Sharkey), Mr. Paravicinio (Reginald Hemphill), and Mrs. Boyle (Kristie Berger), in the Citadel Theatre's production of "The Mousetrap." (North Shore Camera Club)

LAKE FOREST, Ill.—Agatha Christie wrote a short radio play as a birthday gift for Queen Mary in 1947, then adapted it into a play, “The Mousetrap.” Christie expected that it wouldn’t run long, maybe eight months at the most. The play opened in London in 1952 and has been on stage ever since. The longest running play in the history of theater, it is still being performed in London and around the world.

Indeed, there is a very good reason for the longevity of this murder mystery. It’s very difficult to guess the identity of the culprit unless someone who has seen the play reveals it.

Since there are no films or televised adaptations of the play, the only way to experience it is in a theater. Fortunately for Midwestern audiences, “The Mousetrap” is now playing in a spellbinding production at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, Illinois.

The suspense begins with the arrival of five guests who join the two owners of Monkswell Manor, which is a remote country guesthouse in England. Outside, a raging snowstorm has turned into a blizzard that has cut the house off from the outside world. At the same time, the radio is blaring about a dangerous murderer who is lurking in the area.

The phone has been disconnected, the lights are not working, and the shrieking sounds of a fight are heard throughout the house. When one of the characters walks into a room, she lets out a bloodcurdling scream. She has just found a dead body, strangled and lying on the floor.

Soon, Detective Sgt. Trotter, who has plowed through the snow on skis, arrives on the scene and warns the residents that all their lives are in danger. Trotter is trying to solve a murder and believes the killer is hiding out in Monkswell Manor. Years ago, a woman and her husband mistreated their three foster children, which resulted in the death of one of them. While the wife and husband were imprisoned, the husband died in jail, the wife served her sentence and was released, only to be murdered thereafter. Trotter believes that one of the guests at Monkswell Manor killed that woman as well as the recently found strangled victim.

The guests are shocked to learn there’s a killer loose in the house. Since everyone is suspect, and they all have been lying about their incriminating pasts, how will the detective discover the identity of the murderer? As the tension builds, everyone worries about becoming the killer’s next victim. Of course, there are plenty of twists and turns, and since it’s an Agatha Christie work, there is a surprise ending, which those leaving the theater are asked not to reveal.

Although “The Mousetrap” was mounted on stage 71 years ago, it is still a compelling story that keeps the audience enthralled and guessing until the very end.

Wonderful Effects

It's an intriguing revival under Scott Westerman's tight and polished direction, and Citadel has gone all out with a high-tech production that includes 60 LED screens provided by Pangaea Technologies.

It features video special effects by Ian Merritt that includes a steaming radiator; a flickering, flaming fireplace; and a blood-splattered window, looking out to the blizzard. With its squeaky doorways, dark rooms, and oak-stained stairway designed by Catalina Niño, the Monkswell Manor set has a claustrophobic feel that captures the locked-in atmosphere prominent in many of Christie’s mysteries.

It’s not just the dazzling special effects and set, though, that makes this such an exquisite production. The Citadel ensemble has brought compelling performances to this suspenseful mystery: Mary Margaret McCormack and Jack Sharkey are engaging as the recently married couple who have turned an inherited home into a guesthouse; Reginald Hemphill is a wonderfully humorous character as Mr. Paravicini whose nationality and age is unknown; Jesús Barajas delivers an anxiety-ridden portrayal of Christopher Wren, a boy who doesn’t want to become an adult; William Ryder is convincing as the chin-up, tight-lipped Maj. Metcalf; Kristie Berger is a hoot as the nasty-tempered Mrs. Boyle; Amy Stricker is powerful as the cold and dismissive Miss Casewell; and Sean Erik Wesslund is terrific as Detective Sgt. Trotter, the sleuth who is determined to solve the crime.

“The Mousetrap” is not only a captivating mystery but a great Agatha Christie classic. And one more thing: I doubt that you’ll figure out who did it!

'The Mousetrap' Citadel Theatre 300 Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, Ill. Tickets: 847-735-8554 or CitadelTheatre.org Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes Closes: Oct. 15, 2023
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As an arts writer and movie/theater/opera critic, Betty Mohr has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Australian, The Dramatist, the SouthtownStar, the Post Tribune, The Herald News, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and other publications.