THE MOUSETRAP – Written by Agatha Christie; Directed by Pat Payne.  Presented by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through August 21.  Tickets available at 970- 744-3747 or at ColoradoCandlelight.com.

There is going to come a time when every passionate play-goer is going to have to make up their own individual minds – based on their own individual circumstances – when it is safe to go back to the theatre. Since making it known that I – an elder with compromised immune systems – planned to or had attended the re-opening of Candlelight, I’ve been bombarded by opinions about whether or not I should have taken part in the festivities.  Most feeling that it was foolhardy of me and my guest. Let me report that the theatre has taken every precaution known to them to protect their staff, casts, and audience.  Whether that is enough remains to be seen obviously. The tables are placed ten feet apart; there is no sharing of tables; the staff has their temperature taken when reporting for work and wears masks in the theatre (I did notice them taking them off in the kitchen); no actors as wait staff; everything handled with gloves; credit cards sanitized when returned; and probably more stuff going on behind the scenes that were not obvious to their patrons. They have brought back casts of familiar faces to the Candlelight stage; people who are comfortable working together. It is relatively easy to “socially distance” a cast of eight on the large stage in a show that has no love scenes and not much physical contact. Are my friends right in counseling that I should not have gone and that I should not encourage others to attend?? If there is a spike in the nearly non-existent cases in Larimer County (which is how they got the variance to re-open in the first place) that can be traced back to mutual attendance at the theatre, then we’ll know.  In the meantime, I’ll tell you what’s going on and let you make up your own mind.

The basic facts of the history of THE MOUSETRAP, Christie’s most prolific script, are generally well known to theatre going audiences.  It premiered in October of 1952 in the Theatre Royal in Nottingham (London) and has run continuously since then. A sixty-eight year run – until it was felled and closed like the rest of the theatres in the world by the pandemic. Plans are pending for it to re-open in London in a socially distanced performance in October, 2020 – which would have been its 68th year anniversary performance. Written as an entertainment for Queen Mary, the rights to the play were given as a birthday gift to Christie’s grandson (“Gee, thanks, Grandma. I really wanted a bicycle.”) and included the restriction that only one other production could play in England as long as the London production was being performed and that no movie could be made of it until London closed for six months.

The plot follows a typical Christie pattern of bringing “strangers” together in an isolated locale at the behest of a mysterious host or cause and then allowing the audience to slowly uncover the connections between them through exposition. In this case, the first set of guests at the newly opened Monkshouse Manor are a mixed lot of stereotypical English characters. Hosts Mollie and Giles welcome them in the middle of a snowstorm with the phone lines down and no way to get help. A police officer shows up because it is believed that a murderer is in the neighborhood and may be after someone at the house. A murder occurs and then the game is afoot!! Who dunnit?

The nervousness of the novice hosts welcoming their first set of guests, the ensuing confusion over room arrangements and difficult demands, the concern over the weather situation, and then the arrival of a police official all tend to build the tension. When the most obnoxious guest is killed, the suspense heightens as the connections to a long ago case of child abuse is discovered. Finally the guilty party within their midst is revealed in a dramatic turn around and the whole story is uncovered. At least, that’s the way it generally goes. It may have been that we are all used to seeing musicals on the Candlelight stage, but the cast seemed oddly stiff and ill at ease in a straight play. The complicated plot moved along slowly and the mysterious dots to the whole story are finally all connected. Those who have not seen the play before (or long ago) will be pleasantly surprised by the denouement and the unveiling of the villain.  Those who have seen it before will wonder why it took so long to get to that point.

As a dinner theatre, Candlelight continues to please. The menu featured the familiar Prime Rib, a huge garden salad plate, a delicious tilapia meal and a barbequed chicken plate as well as a full complement of drinks and desserts.  The house had about 70 people in attendance which made for a subdued audience without the usual sense of camaraderie present in a theatre this size. So this is what’s going on. It’s up to you now to make up your mind whether to come back this summer or wait until fall when they hope to return to the sparkling musicals with which they have built their deserved reputation.

A WOW factor of 7.5!

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