PRINCETON, NJ – It’s hard to believe that the well-crafted mystery play The Mousetrap has been running on the London stage since 1952. That’s 64 years! And what makes this play such an audience pleaser?

Well, you don’t have too look very far. Agatha Christie was a master at developing fascinating characters, filling her novels and plays with shrewd plot devices while giving her characters psychological heft.

It all takes place at Monkswell Manor, a beautiful estate in England that has been turned into a hotel by the new owners, Mollie and Giles Ralston. No sooner have an assortment of guests arrived, then Detective Sergeant Trotter comes to investigate a murder in the village. He’s convinced that one of the people at the manor will see a similar fate because of links to the murder elsewhere. But while he questions and prods the guests, motives and excuses become more and more bizarre.

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The cast is excellent in this two-act play directed by Adam Immerwahr. Jessica Bedford plays the lovely Molly, running the hotel practically single-handed, while her husband Giles (Adam Green) is off doing errands or resisting the efforts of the policeman to solve the murder. Bedford has the earnestness and sincerity to make you root for her belief in the innocence of others, especially the architect Christopher Wren (get it?).  Andy Phelan is hilarious as the somewhat dapper, effeminate pretender who adds a lively presence in contrast to some of the solemn characters.
Sandra Shipley is Mrs. Boyle, immediately criticizing the fact that the manor has no ‘staff.’ Thom Sesma plays Mr. Paravicini, a foreigner who manages to play a one-fingered “Three Blind Mice” on the piano in the drawing room. Graeme Malcolm is Major Metcalf, generally keeping a low profile during the proceedings, until a final twist that no one suspects. Emily Young plays Miss Casewell, another guest who keeps her private life to herself. Richard Gallagher is Sergeant Trotter, who dominates much of the action as he interrogates each individual. He’s intent on exposing the lies of each person.

Alexander Dodge’s set of a handsome drawing room, with fireplace, enormous mullioned window showing steadily falling snow, wall sconces and more embellish the richness of the manor. Lighting by Phillip S. Rosenberg is crucial in the gradual shift from day to night and back again, not to mention moments when all the lights go out.  Sound design by Nick Kourtides also adds to the atmosphere and sense of isolation in this country home. Costumes by Jess Goldstein imply a 1940s time period, although we’re never really sure.

“The Mousetrap” is still a crowd pleaser, at least judging from the huge turnout at a Sunday matinee. Performances continue through March 27 at the Matthews Theatre, part of the McCarter Theatre Center, on the campus of Princeton University. For tickets, call 609-258-2787 or visit mccarter.org.