“The Mousetrap,” a classic whodunit by Agatha Christie, will open at The Stagecrafters, 8130 Germantown Ave., on Friday, Nov. 29.  It is set in an English countryside inn, circa 1950. A murder is committed, and everyone comes under suspicion. Performances run through Dec. 15. More info at 215-247-8881 or www.thestagecrafters.org. Seen here are Elliott Rotman, left, and Russ Tisinger during rehearsal. (Photo by Sara Stewart)

“The Mousetrap,” a classic whodunit by Agatha Christie, will open at The Stagecrafters, 8130 Germantown Ave., on Friday, Nov. 29.  It is set in an English countryside inn, circa 1950. A murder is committed, and everyone comes under suspicion. Performances run through Dec. 15. More info at 215-247-8881 or www.thestagecrafters.org. Seen here are Elliott Rotman, left, and Russ Tisinger during rehearsal. (Photo by Sara Stewart)

by Hugh Hunter

With “The Mousetrap”, a classic whodunit by Agatha Christie now running at Stagecrafters, you enter into history. Premiering in 1952, “Mousetrap” is the longest running play in theater history.

The title comes from the revenge play Hamlet wrote “to catch the conscience of the king.” Revenge is the theme here, too, where the perpetrator lurks in the darkness whistling “Three Blind Mice” while seeking to kill three persons involved in a childhood tragedy.

Everyone is trapped by a snowstorm inside the great hall of Monkswell Manor, a countryside inn. Residents soon learn about a London murder and that both the killer and the next intended victims are among the house guests.

Detective Sergeant Trotter (Jesse R. Lehman) tries to stop further tragedy. He shrewdly guesses that the perpetrator is enjoying the turmoil, so he rushes his investigation with rapid, incessant inquiries in the hopes of flushing out the killer.

Two of the guests are eccentrics who naturally fall under suspicion. Christopher Wren (Matthew Thompson) is a wild-haired young man who fabricates his identity while Mr. Paravicini (Richard Geller) is a dandified Italian who claims to have been stranded by the snowstorm.

But suspects turn up everywhere. Mrs. Boyle (Linda Palmarozza) is a comically disgruntled magistrate who was involved in the original childhood tragedy. Major Metcalf (Elliott Rotman) cannot give a good reason for staying at Monkswell Manor, while mysterious Miss Casewell (Janet Wasser) has lived most of her troubled life abroad.

Even the proprietors come under suspicion. Neither Mollie (Marisa Brown) nor Giles (Russ Tisinger) can account for being away in London during the time of the first murder and later become suspicious of each other.

The whirlwind pace of the show sometimes detracts from the strength of the set (set design, Scott Killinger). Monkswell Manor is virtually a character itself. But even in the final scene this production never pauses on an empty stage where you get to feel Monkswell’s hugely sinister power.

Agatha Christie did not allow “The Mousetrap” to be made into a movie, nor authorize a printed version. Since 1974 it has been playing at St Martin’s Theater in London’s West End, where it is a regular tourist attraction.

But why go all the way to London when you can take in the Stagecrafters’ version under the direction of Loretta Lucy Miller?  If you do not know the outcome, “Mousetrap” gives you all the fun of a mystery thriller. (I heard lots of horrified gasping in the audience at the end.)

Even if you are familiar with the whodunit, “Mousetrap” still holds your attention because you focus more on the devilishness of the perpetrator.

Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “The Mousetrap” will run through Dec 15. Reservations available at 215-247-9913.