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March 22, 2012

Do you like this?

One of the “must-do’s” for theatre folk visiting London is to attend a performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Is it for the sizzling acting or the astounding production values? No. It’s because “The Mousetrap,” which premiered in 1952, is still running and shows no signs of closing anytime soon. It’s celebrating 60 years onstage, a record no other show is ever likely to match.

But if you aren’t going to the West End anytime soon, no worries. You can catch the classic murder mystery on the Main Stage at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre through April 1.

Director George Quick has wisely opted to keep the play’s original 50’s setting, as this is not a play that would benefit from concept staging, as in, “Let’s set it in Palm Beach.” Its vocabulary, references and characters are solidly post-WWII British, and if you don’t get remarks about ration books and service in the Indian Army, well, that’s the way the crumpet crumbles. If you do, get out your snood, because this is the show for you.

Christie was inspired to write a short story, which then became a radio play, which then became “The Mousetrap,” by the real-life death of a boy who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.

The setting is Monkswell Manor, about 30 miles from London, and the characters keep saying things that remind the audience forcibly of the game “Clue,” which is amusing.

As a writer, Christie was not terribly interested in character development. Plot was her thing—but that doesn’t stop the actors in this production from having a real lark playing their clueless characters. In all honesty, anyone familiar with Christie has figured the solution out less than half an hour in, so the performances are the reason to hang in there.

Standouts include Lauren M. Johnson as Mollie Ralston, the lady of the manor-turned-guesthouse. Johnson projects a charm and warmth that turn the character from cardboard to flesh. Justin Bridges as the flaky architect Christopher Wren is a hoot, and has developed a whole flight of mannerisms that keep his portrayal lively. As Mrs. Boyle, Julie J. Van Valkenburg has a great deal of fun spoofing the stuffy English matron who does nothing but complain (at one point, just a noise from her gets a laugh), and Greg Ramblin is very solid as Major Metcalf, with especial kudos for dialect work.

But the whole cast is consistent, without a weak link. Other players include Tim Newland, Lizzie Chazen, Jerry M. Draper and Will Park.

Another strength is the set by Quick and Scott Dunlap, inspired by the drawings of Edward Gorey. Take the time to really look at the set decoration, which has a number of visual jokes.

Not much can be revealed about the plot, in particular, the ending, but “The Mousetrap” is a classic snowed-in-with-possible-murderer-in-the-country-manor mystery. Not quite as much drinking goes on as in the typical example of this genre, but otherwise, that’s the drill.

Fans of cutting-edge theatre will have to wait for the upcoming production of “Mr. and Mrs. M” to get their edgy itch scratched, but in the meantime, a thundery night with “The Mousetrap” is a cozy spot of classic whodunit.

(Interesting factoid: Under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months. Film may no longer exist at that point.)

The Mousetrap

$18-$25

8 p.m. March 23, 24, 30, 31; 7 p.m. Mar. 22, 29, 2:30 p.m. Mar. 25, April 1

Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.

(423) 267-8534 theatrecentre.com

by

March 22, 2012

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