With socially distant table setup, the Johnstown theatre leads the state in live theatre reopening

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap had played continuously in London’s West End since its debut in 1952, making it the world’s longest running play. Then COVID-19 happened and that long run ended. How delightful then, that when Colorado was given the go-ahead for theatres to reopen (with considerable precautions), Candlelight Dinner Playhouse used the opportunity to debut its first ever play with The Mousetrap. (The theatre is primarily known for its musical productions.)

A recent unsolved murder, seven strangers, a cold guesthouse, a winter storm, the classic nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ plays slowly and dramatically on a piano, a phone call from a detective, the phone lines down, the detective arrives — all the makings of a classic whodunit murder mystery. Add in a talented, experienced cast, a keen director, and an elaborate set and you’ve got the makings of a great play.

Directed by Pat Payne, The Mousetrap opens with a stage set with a grand living area of a newly opened guesthouse. Two ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling, a fire blazes in the fireplace. Indeed, a winter storm can be seen through the window as Mollie Ralston (Sara Kowalski), owner of the guest house, enters her new guesthouse, Monkswell Manor, and busies herself stoking the fire and checking the radiator. As she removes her coat, scarf and gloves, the radio tells of a murder, a woman strangled nearby, suspect at large.

Soon the guests arrive one by one, each more eccentric than the last. There’s flamboyant Christopher Wren (Cole Emarine), a young, enthusiastic architect (or is he); Mrs. Boyle (Samantha Jo Staggs), an uppity older woman none too pleased with her accommodations; Major Metcalf (Elliot Clough), unassuming enough; and Miss Casewell (Heather Mcclain), a traveler just passing through.

But is each really who they appear to be?

Each arrives at the manor with a harrowing tale of having to walk up the hill to reach the guesthouse rather than being dropped by a taxi that wouldn’t make it up for the snow. It is clear that soon no one will be able to come or go due to the storm.

An unexpected guest

But then an unexpected guest arrives. Mr. Paravicini (Kent Sugg) seeks a room to weather to storm after his car gets stuck in a snowdrift. Now, along with Giles Ralston (David L.Wygant), we have nearly all our players in one cold guesthouse — and one murder already committed.

The characters go about settling into the guesthouse and scoping one another out. We become aware of each guests’ disdain for one another: Wren has a bit of fun with Mrs. Boyle, chasing her into the library with the volume of the radio. Mr. Paravivini shows his eccentricities with his playful joking about how perhaps the murderer is amongst them, perhaps it’s even him.

Soon Detective Sgt. Trotter (Scott Hurst, JR) arrives, sent to the manor to ensure the safety of the guests and investigate the earlier murder heard on the radio. Each occupant of the manor suddenly becomes a suspect, or a possible next victim. Trotter informs the seven strangers that the murdered woman once lived near the manor and that clues found near the dead body — the aforementioned nursery rhyme and the manor’s address — make him believe there will surely be more murders.

While this is surely a dark play, lots of comic relief comes from both Emarine and Sugg’s characters as they go about trying to prove their innocence or leading the audience and the detective astray. It is soon that we realize that really no one is who they appear to be. And then, another murder. This one among the seven guests.

Payne does a superb job directing the first play to come to The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. The actors play off one another seamlessly and come and go from the two doors, the hallway and staircase in such a way that the audience is never quite sure who is where, or who is who creating the suspicion needed for this classic whodunit.