THEYDUNIT? Petronio and Elliott. [Photo by Richard W. Dionne Jr.]
What would we do without whodunits? Without them, there would probably be more actual locked-room murders happening, to keep the world supplied with mystery.
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the classic standard-bearer for such mayhem on the stage, and 2nd Story Theatre is presenting a titillating rendition (through September 1), directed by Pat Hegnauer and Ed Shea.
Its murder most foul doesn’t happen in a locked room, but there is enough puzzlement in Christie’s magnum opus to make it the longest uninterrupted-run play in history, north of 25,000 performances in London’s West End since its 1952 opening.
That popularity suggests repeated attendance by some, indicating that its satisfactions involve more than finding out who did the deed.
The action takes place not on a dark and stormy night, but close — a snow-stormy night when the characters arrive at a guesthouse, and the following snowbound day when they are all trapped together with a killer. The setting is Monkswell Manor, a guesthouse in the English countryside just opened by a young couple. (There are American accents all around, the arguably misguided vocal equivalent of colorblind casting.)
Christie had the delightful, mischievous habit of throwing plot twists at audiences and seeing if she could trick us with the identity of the evildoer. In Murder on the Orient Express you had good reason to think that everyone was suspicious, and to say that the narrator of her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was unreliable is an understatement.
Our sympathies are immediately with Mollie and Giles Ralston (Erin Elliott and Dillon Medina), the amiable young couple who are so nervous about everything going right with their first houseful of guests. There couldn’t be more of a contrast with them than one of the first arrivals, Mrs. Boyle (Paula Faber), a crotchety old woman who can’t open her mouth without complaining about something. (She is a retired magistrate, so her having dealt with the criminal element makes us visualize a target on her head instead of a hat.)
Then there is Christopher Wren (Ben Church), if we can believe that’s really his name. He claims that his parents hoped he’d become an architect like his namesake. But there’s something obviously wrong with him. He all but bounces off the walls and is constantly chattering in hyperactivity — or could it be. . . madness?!
Comically suspicious is Mr. Paravicini (Vince Petronio), with face powder, rouge, and a ridiculous Italian accent. He claims that his car overturned in a snow bank. What to make of him? Sicilian vendetta?
All we know about Maj. Metcalf (F. William Oakes) is that he is retired from the army. We don’t know much more about Miss Casewell (Erin Olson), who dresses like a man, but she mentions having had a traumatic childhood. That is pertinent because of something that happened nearby years before.