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THEATER REVIEW : 'Mousetrap' Still Catching Audiences : While the Agatha Christie play continues its 41-year run in London, you can see the mystery unfold in Thousand Oaks.

August 19, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" occupies a unique position in English-language theater: It's been playing in London, continuously, since its opening in 1952. Unless it closed within the past couple of weeks, you can still see the play at the St. Martin's Lane Theater there.

It's also playing somewhat closer to home, at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks, under the auspices of the recently formed House of Life Productions. Factoring out the cost of an airline ticket, food and lodging, at $8 it's a recommended alternative to The Real Thing.

A classic closed-room mystery, "The Mousetrap" takes place in an isolated English manor recently opened to paying guests by its new owners, Giles and Mollie Ralston. The first guests have checked in as a snowstorm begins.

Before long, a stranger arrives claiming that his automobile was damaged in the storm, the manor is snowed in, and the Ralstons receive a telephone call from the police, telling them that Detective Sgt. Trotter will soon arrive. It seems there's strong evidence that one of the Manor's guests is a murderer, and that at least one other is his--or her--intended victim.

Anyone familiar with Christie's other work should have no trouble spotting the killer, though the identity of the potential victims is something else: Vital clues are withheld from the audience until the last scene, when Trotter calls everybody together to sort things out. Despite this sloppy writing, the show's fun to watch, and nicely acted.

The enthusiastic cast includes Maggie White and Stephen Robert Zamora as the Ralstons; Jack Thomas as neurotic young architect Christopher Wren (named, he explains, after his legendary namesake); Patty Foy as the argumentative Mrs. Boyle; Nels Jorgenson as affable Major Metcalf; Michael Vila as Trotter; Elyse Ralston as pleasant but mysterious Miss Casswell, and Tony Ramon as the even more mysterious last-minute arrival, Mr. Paravicini, who speaks with an Italian accent reminiscent of Chico Marx.

Director Robert Paul O'Neill and his uncredited scenic designer have made good use of the small Arts Council Center space; some members of the audience are virtually in the suspects' laps.

And while you're guessing, try to figure out why this play has remained such an audience favorite for more than 40 years. Now, there's a mystery!

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Mousetrap" concludes Friday through Sunday night at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Drive in Thousand Oaks. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 general admission and $7 for seniors and students. For reservations or information, call 499-4355.

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