SKOKIE, Ill.—The woman standing alone in the sitting room is likely the next victim. In the adjoining room, someone plays a chilling one-finger version of “Three Blind Mice” on a piano. Then the woman flips on the radio: “Suppose you are standing alone in a room,” the radio voice says. Nervously, she flips to another program.
Now someone whistles “Three Blind Mice” from the other side of the stage, and we see the door to the kitchen opening and a black-gloved hand curling slowly around the door’s edge. The hand reaches for the light switch. Darkness. The woman turns, “Oh, what are you doing?” she asks. Instead of answering, the figure in the dark darts to the radio, turns on music, and dials up the volume.
Although we can’t see clearly, we know what the scuffle in the dark is about.
Director Jonathan Berry takes on Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre, and the flawless result is either the audience leaning forward in anticipation or being tickled by the humorous moments sprinkled throughout. Not one element is off—although perhaps some of the characters are.
Mollie and Giles Ralston (Cora Vander Broek and Keith Neagle), a newlywed couple, have inherited an old house in the country and are opening it today as a small inn, Monkswell Manor.
Their very first guests straggle in during a building snowstorm. Christopher Wren (Joey deBettencourt) is a puppy of a man with oodles of enthusiasm but who somehow seems off. Miss Casewell (Lindsey Pearlman) slinks around mysteriously, smokes, and has eyes for Mrs. Ralston. Mrs. Boyle (Laura T. Fisher), a cantankerous woman, cares only about the hotel amenities she finds or rather never finds. Major Metcalf (Patrick Clear), a pleasant, dignified older man, likes old houses. These guests were expected.
Arriving unexpectedly when his car is caught in a snowdrift is Mr. Paravicini (Joe Dempsey), a foreigner who seems younger than his made-up face. (Why would someone want to appear older?)
Now they are all snowbound. The phone wires seem to be down as well. Worse yet, a murder has been committed in a nearby farmhouse, and Sergeant Trotter (Greg Matthew Anderson) arrives on skis to prevent another murder. Three victims, he expects—three blind mice, the murderer’s note left at the crime scene had read. But who will the next victims be? And who will kill them?
When a guest is murdered, Trotter is determined to find who had the opportunity to commit the crime. But Mr. Paravicini was in the drawing room fiddling on the piano; Miss Casewell was reading in her room. Mr. Wren, too, was in his room, combing his mop of hair. Mr. Ralston was checking the phone line upstairs, and his wife was preparing dinner in the kitchen downstairs. All were alone, so no one has an alibi.
If all have opportunity, who, then, has a motive? And so the delicious whodunit plays out.
Set near London in 1952, we get a sense of life after the war. In the past, innkeepers would know their guests, and if they didn’t, they would make inquiries about them. Now the world is full of strangers. Unfortunately, knowing who’s who is part of the past. Now doubt and even fear reign, or conversely, a cavalier attitude, most likely due to having seen so much death in the recent past.
The entire cast is excellent. The Ralstons are a solid couple, with Vander Broek playing a haunted yet loving wife and sympathetic mistress of the house, and Neagle, her jealous yet also loving husband.
It would be difficult to imagine a more irritating guest than Fisher makes Mrs. Boyle, a counterpoint to Clear’s endearing Major Metcalf.
Pearlman creates a steely-eyed young woman who’s seen too much of life, and deBettencourt’s out-of-place laugh is memorable. Dempsey’s Mr. Paravicini seems stiff and nimble, gregarious and closed-mouthed, simultaneously. Anderson gives Sergeant Trotter a strangely overdone swagger and yet a deadly serious face.
There is no fault to find in either Berry’s directing or with the slightly worn elegance of Jack Magaw’s design of Monkswell Manor. The costumes by Izumi Inaba are of rich wools in browns and burgundies, which feel warm against the falling snow outside the window. All snug and treacherous.
Rarely produced in Chicagoland, “The Mousetrap” is the longest running play in the world, playing in London for 62 years. If this production is typical, it’s easy to see why.
9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, Ill.
Tickets: 847-673-6300 or northlight.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Closes: Dec. 21