Behind the Curtain: “The Mousetrap” at McCarter Theatre

McCarter Theatre, with Director Adam Immerwahr at the helm, is steering through the mystery-thriller maze crafted by the “queen of crime.” Agatha Christie, the renowned British crime novelist and playwright swirls suspense in “The Mousetrap” like white weather. The guests at Monkswell Manor are so too surrounded by snow… and murder.

Emily Young and Richard Gallagher are both new to the Christie phenomenon and dove in deeply to capture their characters, Miss Casswell and Detective Sergeant Trotter.

“For those who have seen ‘The Mousetrap’ before, I’d say, you haven’t seen this one,” Gallagher said. “Adam is a terrific director with such a specific goal in mind – making it very real. It’s a different production; it’s immediate.”

“I think the immediacy of the production is a testament to Adam and the company we have that were interested in going that deep,” Young added. “There are probably assumptions about what this play has been, what it is and what it will be. It’s been running so long in London. What’s special about this production is we’ve given it the time it deserves to unpack it. We’re discovering the scenes anew in an authentic and human way.”

Young expressed that some comedy seems to come from that as well – attesting that the humor doesn’t feel “canned.”

“There’s definitely funny in this, and definitely scary as well,” Gallagher chuckled. “Death isn’t funny, but there are some oddball characters and wonderful humor in those characters and how they relate to each other in a snowstorm. It plays on our interactions, who really gets on our nerves and who doesn’t.”

Young said Immerwahr and the company spent a “luxurious amount of table time” dissecting “The Mousetrap,” which has been running on the stage for more than 60 years. She feels this allowed each person to individually make discoveries of each of their characters.

“The big surprise is that Agatha Christie can bear that; she’s worth the time, and I think that’s really cool. It’s like our Netflix talk shows back then. It’s fun and enthralling and juicy,” Young said. “And I do believe it can bear human investigation. The tone of the piece is not all one thing – a testament to the group that we can ride the wave of tone.”

Gallagher voiced how gratifying it was watching everybody work and seep into their complex characters.

“The whole Agatha Christie experience is new to me. I’m loving getting to be some young, optimistic detective guy trying to take care of it all,” Gallagher said. “The puzzle of it all is fun. [Christie] gives him a lot of language, words to discover this motley crew of characters. She does a terrific job at the murder mystery. I hope the audience has as much fun as we’ve had.”

Gallagher has been sporting the detective’s mustache for some weeks now and described, in jest, the peculiar looks he receives on the New York subway – discerning the facially haired hipster in straight-laced clothing.

Young, meanwhile, leaped into Miss Casswell the day she put on a tie.

“Miss Casswell basically wears men’s clothes. I remember one day I woke and said ‘the tie is going on,’ and it really changed the spine of the character,” Young said. “Something I’ve realized and am delighting in is how complicated this character turned out to be… I’ve been threading the needle of Miss Casswell, and she’s a delicate balance – confident, smart and misunderstood. Sometimes, the preconception of Christie is paint by numbers, but it’s anything but that.”

“This production doesn’t feel like a museum piece. It’s not outdated theater,” Gallagher said. “It’s vibrant and it’s real.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida