Building a better Mousetrap

Wooster High School takes on Agatha Christie’s most popular play

Mara Brosy, Jessica Rod and Michael Schneider in Wooster High School’s <i>The Moustrap.</i>

Mara Brosy, Jessica Rod and Michael Schneider in Wooster High School’s The Moustrap.

Photo by Adrienne Rice

Can a fledgling high school theater program pull off the most over-produced murder mystery ever written? That’s the challenge Wooster High School teacher James Bailey set before his cast and crew with their upcoming production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.

The Mousetrap was born as a 1947 radio play. It then went through an incarnation as a short story, “Three Blind Mice,” before evolving into Christie’s first-ever play. It opened Nov. 25, 1952, at the Ambassadors Theatre in London, and met with such success that it now holds the distinction of being the longest continuously running play in history.

When the play opens, newlyweds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Mara Brosy and Dan Ruetz) have just opened a bed and breakfast inn in the English countryside, circa 1940s. It’s opening weekend at Monkswell Manor, and the inaugural guests arrive just ahead of a blizzard.

The guests also arrive with news of a murder having recently occurred in town. It seems that many years ago, three children were sent to an abusive and neglectful foster home, where one of the children died. The remaining two (a boy and a girl, to keep you guessing) have disappeared, and apparently one of them is getting revenge on anyone involved with sending them there.

The murderer also apparently has a theme song for his crimes, the children’s ditty “Three Blind Mice.” For those of you scoring at home (or even if you’re alone), that’s one mouse down and two more to go, and a note left at the crime scene points to Monkswell Manor. And thus, with the blizzard blocking all the roads, the B&B has just become one giant mousetrap.

If the plot seems clichéd, it’s probably because mystery writers have been mimicking the master for decades. But for the young thespians at Wooster, The Mousetrap is a fresh challenge and a whole lot of fun.

I met with the cast and crew at a recent after-school rehearsal, just two weeks before opening night. Luckily, the period furniture had just arrived, complementing Sara Jones’ set design for a very cozy B&B scene.

Bailey, who teaches English and drama at Wooster, said that the theater program at the high school was nonexistent five years ago. He said Wooster is often seen as a “redneck, blue-collar school,” and he hopes the theater program can help change that image.

“We’re very proud of this program,” Bailey said. “It gives Wooster a different face other than athletics.”

Miss Casewell, the aloof, sophisticated expatriate, is played with tension and melodrama by veteran Wooster actress Jessica Rod. Rod said she is thankful for Wooster’s theater program because it has taught her some real-world lessons about life.

“It’s a learning experience both inside and outside, and you can take what you learn inside and apply it to outside,” she said.

Another Wooster theater vet, Brian Tillman, busily chews on a pipe as Major Metcalfe. The cranky, demanding Mrs. Boyle is played by freshman Anna Novosel, and Chris Galli hams it up as Mr. Paravicini, the mysterious Italian stranger. Michael Schneider, who makes no secret of his Broadway ambitions, provides comic relief as the quirky, effeminate Christopher Wren.

And then there’s sophomore Dane Nielsen, whom Bailey describes as “an absolute workhorse,” playing Detective Sergeant Trotter. Nielsen makes a dramatic appearance at Monkswell Manor on skis, and he’s sure to grab your attention for the remainder of the play.

Of course, I won’t give away whodunit, but those who haven’t seen The Mousetrap won’t be disappointed by the surprise.