DORSET - In 1952, when Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" first appeared in London's West End, she predicted the play would run no more than a few months. Sixty-two years later, there has never been a break in its production: modern history's longest continuously-running play.

Add Dorset Theatre Festival as the most recent link in that chain, and artistic director Dina Janis as another theatre executive knowing that the only way it would fail with audiences is for actors to not do their part. So after putting the play on DTF's summer slate, Janis picked the right director - the exceptional Paul Mullins - and proceeded to cast actors that would take Mullins' interpretation to the heights it deserved.

Well done on all counts.

A murder is committed in London, then the action moves to a country manor with seven snowbound individuals: Hosts Mollie (Gretchen Hall) and Giles Ralston (Will Hayden), their guests Christopher Wren (Kieran Mulcare), Mrs. Boyle (Carol Halstead), Maj. Metcalf (Tom Ferguson), and Miss Casewell (Julia Ogilvie). Later, they are joined by Mr. Paravicini (Andrew Weems).

A policeman, Detective Sgt. Trotter (Anthony Roach), comes to warn of danger related to the London murder, and another murder takes place. Since the killer is already in the group, a trap must be set to uncover him (or her).

Hall and Hayden are a superbly believable Ralstons.


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Hayden adds just the right stuffiness and bluster to convince British sensibilities, and Hall, well, what can we say that would be enough?

Central to the locale as well as the action, she masterfully floats in and out of our consciousness while hiding several secrets, yet still projecting considerable presence. When on stage, and as the play's moral center and bridge between the old ways and the new, all eyes turn to her, justifiably.

Halstead and Ogilvie were a study in contrasts, and beautifully complemented each other. They both excellently played the two female extremes to Hall's center. The former gave us to understand completely the ways and views of an English lady of the day (with laughter along the way, much to her credit), while the latter perfectly represented the New Guard: aggressive, sassy, irreverent - and quite dishy, to boot.

The handsome Roach strongly projected Trotter as immensely believable. As we have come to know in Christie mysteries, this can be dangerous. He moved most capably in the spheres which the script required, and his bearing and delivery were impeccably gripping.

The play's comic show stealers, hands down, were Mulcare and Weems. Mulcare's Wren not only delights with his utter goofiness, but adds an element of physical comedy to the show that seems out of time and place, but so well executed in his body contortions that one can't imagine the scene before us without it. That he has his own inner demons and knows exactly how to turn the switch when required deserves its own round of applause.

Weems added to this tone breaking in a different, more subtle, yet equally comic way. He cajoled, he tweaked and he caricatured his way into the action - often when it would seem most inappropriate. This low-key mastery foreshadowed his own true character, and Weems' facial expressions alone were worth the price of admission.

Finally, not enough can be said about Ferguson. The one actor of the cast who lives locally, his cool, calm and completely understated Maj. Metcalf was exactly how the part should be played. It's a cunning temporal partnership with Christie herself, and a study of hiding in plain sight. Ferguson hit every one of those marks, not a simple task when tackling this unassuming role.

Debra Booth's set was oddly askew, yet very inviting - and hardly the place one would expect for such intrigue. Lights by Michael Giannitti added suspense at just the correct moment, as well as subtle caricature. In fact, Jill B.C. DuBoff's sound, complete with period radio broadcasting, does exactly the same.

Costume designer Barbara A. Bell outdid herself with distinct post-war outfits which fleshed out character personalities beautifully. And given this play's complicated execution, a special nod must go to the impeccable stage management of Joanna Obuzor.

After 62 years, "the Mousetrap" has become more celebration than labor, and it's an honor to be involved in its production. The trick, of course, is not to take a ready-made success and botch it. Janis showed once again - through Mullins and a superlative cast - how everything she has touched in her five years at Dorset's helm has turned to gold.

Give this, DTF's take of Christie's masterpiece is a treasure to behold, and worthy of massive audience appeal.

"The Mousetrap" runs through Aug. 30 at Dorset Theatre Festival. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.

Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic and an award-winning freelance journalist.