By CHARLES WHALEY
Much chutzpah would be required by anyone thinking to build a better one than Dame Agatha Christie did with “The Mousetrap.”
After decades of performances around the world [it’s still running in London after 60 years] her classic and classy whodunit proves it still has legs after Thursday’s press opening at Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville.
“Don’t go out and tell everyone who did it,” producer/director Bekki Jo Schneider implored the audience, “or you’ll ruin my life.”
That would surely be a dastardly deed. Feel free, however, to go home with the nursery rhyme tune of “Three Blind Mice” playing over and over in your head.
Mollie and Giles Ralston [Tina Jo Wallace and Cary Wiger], a young couple married just one year, have converted Monkswell Manor, inherited from Mollie’s aunt, into a guest house. As the play opens, they’re awaiting their first guests during a blinding snowstorm that rages outside.
Meanwhile, from London come radio reports that a woman has been strangled near Paddington. A notebook dropped at the scene mentions Monkswell Manor.
A campy, hyperactive young man who says he’s an architect named Christopher Wren [hard to believe] is the first to get there. Peter Ripple creates a fascinating character [he loves nursery rhymes] with a mysterious appeal to Mollie Ralston.
Then comes overbearing, constantly complaining Mrs. Boyle [Elizabeth Loos], immediately loathed by everyone and subsequently unmasked as a former magistrate in the area.
She’s followed by blustery Maj. Metcalf [David Myers], retired from the Army, and Miss Casewell [Janet Essenpreis], an aloof mannish woman who lives abroad.
J. R. Stuart turns up unexpectedly as Mr. Paravicini, claiming in an affected foreign accent that his car overturned in a snowdrift.
But then the hated Mrs. Boyle is found dead in the manor’s great hall [on Lee Buckholz’s masterly set]. Phones go dead before Detective Sergeant Trotter [an admirably adept John Vessels] arrives on skis to warn that the murderer is among them.
Quite a twist is sprung at the ending. If you’ve never seen it, or even if you have, it still packs a wallop.
It’s great fun to see all those odd ducks with their secrets and hidden agendas so juicily portrayed by Derby Dinner’s cast. As for dear Dame Agatha — long may she confound us.
“The Mousetrap” runs through Nov. 18. For tickets and information: 812-288-8281, toll free 877-898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.