DORSET - There's something about an Agatha Christie mystery that attracts readers, theatre audiences, and discussion galore. Dorset Theatre Festival will put all those forums to the test in its staging of Christie's "The Mousetrap," the world's longest running play.

DTF artistic/executive director Dina Janis said the play, which began its run in 1952 in London's West End, is a perfect fit for the stage because it engages the audience in many different ways.

"The play recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, and it is Christie's best," Janis said. Mysteries are an annual request from so many of our patrons, and they allow entire families to come in together - grandchildren, grandparents, parents. It's a play that is very interactive where the audience is concerned.

Gretchen Hall and Tom Ferguson rehearse a scene from Agatha Christie’s "The Mousetrap," presented by Dorset Theatre Festival from Aug.
Gretchen Hall and Tom Ferguson rehearse a scene from Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap," presented by Dorset Theatre Festival from Aug. 14-30. (Taylor Crichton photo)
Folks actually come in with little notepads and take notes, whispering during the intermissions about 'who done it' and the like."

Janis said she thought it would be fun to give this kind of classic play to one of DTF's top directors (Paul Mullins, "Superior Donuts," "The Whore and Mr. Moore") and see how "he might honor it, while shaking it up a bit."

The play's premise is vintage Christie. 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.


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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).

Janis said that to perform Christie on stage, not only must the story intrigue, but the acting must be nothing short of superlative.

"The main concern for me is that if you're going to do this genre, it needs to be excellent," Janis said "There are plenty of mediocre productions in community theaters of murder mystery."

To stage a play like "The Mousetrap," Janis continued, the goal is to hire truly excellent actors who can bring in multidimensional performances. She said they must be in the hands of "a director who can craft a layered and fascinating arc for the play, and frame it with top notch design elements."

Director Paul Mullins agreed with Janis on the need for a top-quality production, and said that his players were up to the task of tackling Christie's intriguing characters.

"What strikes me about the eight characters in the play is not so much their number but their specificity," Mullins said. "They are truly individuals, not stock characters but complex and fascinating people. As the actors bring them to life I am thrilled by these lives that our great playwright has given us to explore."

One of the cast members, Tom Ferguson, is a local actor well known for his previous work with the Dorset Players. Earlier this year, he completed a critically acclaimed performance at Dorset of Doug Wright's Pulitzer and Lambda winning play "I Am My Own Wife."

Ferguson is cast as Maj. Metcalf, a mysterious character who brings a scant life background to the story. Ferguson said in the spirit of a good murder mystery, something must be held back to keep the audience guessing.

"It's difficult to discuss any of the characters in this play as one may or may not be exactly who one seems," Ferguson said. "That's the fun of it all. Everyone has an air of mystery about them and I don't want to give anything away."

Indeed, for the last 62 years, at the play's conclusion, the audience is asked not to divulge the murderer's identity order to keep the puzzle fresh and tantalizing for future audiences.

Janis said such maneuvering is exactly what has kept audiences captivated by this play for so long.

"They enjoy themselves, and become engaged psychologically as well as emotionally in the story line of these characters," Janis said. "Christie's story line dares to look at some real issues that existed in England during the period in which it was written. It's interesting to reflect on how they are still a part of our current landscape. 

"Beyond that, I would hope that a play like this allows a new generation of theatre goers the opportunity to experience great theatre and being riveted to the performances and taken for the roller coaster ride of the unexpected," she said.

Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap" runs from Aug. 14-30 at Dorset Theatre Festival. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org. Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist, and the Stages Names drama critic. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com Twitter: @TellyHalkias