Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” now onstage at the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, is very much like other whodunits.
A well-mannered guest is murdered in an English country house. A shrewd detective shows up to solve the crime. Many of the guests are suspects.
But in the University’s Showboat Players production, the murder formula waffles between childhood repression and comic olios (musical interludes) for a truly mysterious experience.
Like other whodunit scenarios, the weather promotes death.
In this case, a blizzard conveniently snows in Monkswell Manor’s guests and its owners, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Alison Forbes and Jack Matheson).
Added to this dark-and-stormy plot is an ominous radio announcement about a London murder and the timely appearance of Sergeant Trotter (Ryan West).
Trotter’s news startles the guests. Apparently, one of them is a killer and two of them are the killer’s next victims.
True macabre bloodsuckers of the mystery genre and sub-genres know that Christie resuscitated the form in her day.
Christie added dark and pitted crevices of human nature to the whodunit formula for a psychological subtextual layer that keeps audiences enthralled beyond plot devices.
With this in mind, it is no coincidence that the killer, the product of an abusive childhood, uses the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” as his/her theme to wreak havoc.
Indeed, all of the play’s neurotic characters (products of bad childhoods) seem like Freudian pop-psychology cutouts.
Director Kenneth Mitchell uses such references to his advantage when directing the actors.
Nicholas Harazin, who plays the psychotic Christopher Wren, overacts all of his parts with laughing fits and hair-pulling hysterics.
Wren also has an insurmountable need for a mother and is pigeonholed as a repressed homosexual. He continually refers to Sergeant Trotter as a “terribly hearty man.”
Allowing such histrionics, Mitchell seems to lend Christy’s one-dimensional characters a certain cachet and weight.
As timely archetypes alone, they stand out and highlight the theme of repression.
But let’s not get too serious.
Unbounded repression takes a sardonic turn under olio director Vern Sutton’s deft writing hand.
The olios, a long standing Showboat tradition, are comic musical vignettes that tend to add flippancy to an overall dramatic arc. Against the backdrop of the play’s repression, the olios add a sense of neurosis.
Take, for example, the Mother Goose rhyme, “The Little Girl with a Curl.”
As Vern Sutton would have it, the story isn’t about a cutesy girl who is plainly “horrid.” Rather the revamped rhyme is about a girl who sets men’s loins afire with her “torridness.”
Then there is Little Bo Peep who lost her jeep and with it, her big brawny G.I. man.
The formulaic ending of “The Mousetrap” might be murder-mystery convenient, but the olios aren’t. And in the end, something dark, sinister extremely funny is achieved in the Showboat Players’ production of “The Mousetrap.”