On Theater: Production captures playgoers

Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" gave a new meaning to the term "staying power." The mystery play opened in London in 1952 and is still running after more than 25,000 performances.

It's been long absent from local stages, but currently the Westminster Community Theater is reviving the classic whodunit as part of its 50th anniversary season, and it's still a crowd pleaser – even if you've long since been aware of the identity of the guilty party.

Director Lenore Stjerne has assembled a sharp, energetic cast to spin this nearly 60-year-old tale, its impact magnified by virtue of its intimate horseshoe staging. It's the production rather than the plot that captures the playgoers' fancies.

Christie's tangled web is woven around a young married couple, Giles and Mollie Ralston, celebrating their first anniversary and opening a guest house in a remote area of England. Naturally, there's a chilling blizzard preventing anyone from leaving what soon will become a murder scene.

The initial roster of guests is an eclectic one – a flouncing pseudo-architect who calls himself Christopher Wren, a snappish retired judge, an elderly military man, a mysterious young woman and a con artist who arrives unexpectedly. When one falls victim to murder, a young detective sergeant (who's arrived on skis) takes up the case.

Standout performances are delivered by Elizabeth M. Desloge as Mollie and Robert A. Dominguez as the sergeant. Desloge conveys volumes with facial expressions alone as she contends with guests, the elements, her husband and an unseen killer, while Dominguez is commanding despite his relative youth as he attempts to ferret out the murderer.

Stephen Saatjian renders a strong performance as Mollie's short-fused husband, both jealous and protective. Mary-Ann Saranchak as the grumbling jurist convincingly gripes and hectors her hostess over accommodations she finds unsatisfactory.

As the flighty Wren, Brandon Ferruccio performs as if his venue were a 500-seat auditorium, over the top both dramatically and vocally (think Ross on "The Tonight Show"). Although subtlety is not in his character description, a bit of toning down would heighten his effectiveness in this intimate setting.

Kristi Pruett is as reticent as she is enigmatic until given a choice scene late in the play, which she nails. Sherman Wiggs Jr. keeps the audience guessing in his guise as the mysterious Mr. Paravicini, while JLT Williams is staunchly effective as the aging officer.

When first introduced, the characters grouse about the chilly temperature. Many in the audience could sympathize, since the theater itself is quite cold. Bring a jacket or a sweater to this one.

"The Mousetrap" is Agatha Christie's signature mystery, a template for many imitations to follow. Even those familiar with the outcome should enjoy this energetic revival at the Westminster Community Theater.

If You Go

What: "The Mousetrap"

Where: Westminster Community Theater, 7272 Maple St., Westminster

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 20

Cost: $16 to $18

Information: (714) 527-5546

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