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The Mousetrap -02/19/1999

By Agatha Christie. Cast: Genevieve Stasheff, Jerome Billingsley, John Flickinger, Jan Chandler, Nick Schneider, Kate Stirling, Christopher Stasheff, Marty Joyce. Director: Phil Strang. Scenic Designer: Tony Engel. Lighting Designer: Bob Picklesimer. Sound Designer: James Dobbs. Costume Designer: Mary Stasheff.

CUTC at the Virginia.

Through Feb. 21. The Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park, Champaign. Box Office: 355-3636.


Agatha Christie is the doyenne of the British mystery on the page, on film and on stage. “The Mousetrap,” which opened in London in 1952 and has been playing continuously since, is the classic drawing room murder mystery, laying down the blueprint for the entire history of the genre. “The Mousetrap” may seem a bit creaky in this techno-flash age, but Christie knew what she was doing.

You’ve got a collection of eccentric suspects, all trapped together in the same place (snowed-in Monkswell Manor). They all seem to be hiding something, as clues and red herrings pop up hither and yon, as they and the policeman among then scramble to find out who’s done what (as well as who’s planning to do what) to whom.

Director Phil Strang keeps the pace humming, especially in the early going, building the necessary tension. Although things bog down a little in the second act, when all the interrogations are piling up, I still heard an audible gasp of surprise when the murdered was revealed. That gasp tells you the production has done its job.

At the dress rehearsal I attended, there were a few problems with sound cues and microphones, and a bit of a snafu with a set piece, but the cast carried on seamlessly, and presumably those wrinkles will be ironed out before opening night.

Strang also elicits good performances from a bright, engaging cast. Among them, Genevieve Stasheff is a standout as sweet Molly, the hostess at Monkswell Manor. As her husband, Giles, Jerome Billingsley seems a little subdued early on, but he comes into his own as the show progresses.

Still, it’s Genevieve’s real-life father, Christopher Stasheff, who does his best to steal the show. As raffish old Mr. Paravicini, Mr. Stasheff is every bit as “charming, charming” as his lines would indicate.

I was not as fond of Marty Joyce’s take on belligerent Sergeant Trotter. Although Joyce is an amiable performer with good energy, he also sports a murky accent that took me right out of the story. The accent has a place in the script, I’m sure, but I’d still rather do without it than try to penetrate this one. Inaccurate accents can survive, but incomprehensible ones have to go.

Rounding out the cast, Jan Chandler does a nice job with waspish, sour Mrs. Boyle; Nick Schneider is properly avuncular as Major Metcalf; and Kate Stirling and John Flickinger offer good characterizations of the most eccentric suspects of the bunch, mannish Miss Casewell and effeminate Mr. Wren. Both Stirling and Flickinger are good vocally, although they could do more physically.

Tony Engel contributes an expansive, woody set that evokes the right mood, and costumer Mary Stasheff adds a nice array of 1940’s-era sweater vests and print dresses.

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