Think eerie, decaying manor houses in the English countryside where a group of people, any one of whom could be a coldblooded killer, gather, and you think Agatha Christie. The British writer's name is practically synonymous with the murder mystery.
But in Christie's work, the murder itself is not the thing. Often it happens off stage, almost as if it were a mere device to set in motion the wheels of her real concern: the investigation. In Christie's stories, it's not as important that someone has died as it is that his or her killer must be found. In most cases, the killer is hiding in plain sight, seeming as guilty or innocent as anyone else, for the moment.
The Ocala Civic Theatre will take theatergoers through a maze of clues, deceptions and dead ends in its production of Christie's The Mousetrap, running through Nov. 23.
"It's all about people whom you think you know and can trust, but you begin to wonder if you really know and trust them," director Tyson Stephenson says of the play's serpentine plot. "Agatha Christie sets it up so that everybody's under suspicion."'
The Mousetrap, which Christie herself adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, is the most performed piece of theater in the history of the stage, Stephenson said. In addition to being performed all over the world, it has been running continuously in London since its debut in 1952.
Stephenson pointed out that the house where the action takes place is an essential ingredient in the play. The set, in a sense, is one of the actors.
"It's set up so that you can get to anywhere in the house from anywhere else," he said. "It's kind of like a maze, and it adds to the total unpredictability of the piece."
Tickets for The Mousetrap are $14 for adults and $7 for students. Wednesday through Saturday performances begin at 8:15 p.m. Matinees are at 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 9, 15, 16 and 23. The Ocala Civic Theatre is in the Appleton Cultural Complex, 4337 E Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala. For information, call (352) 236-2274.
"Agatha Christie is the queen of them all," Stephenson said. "This play has a real revelation at the end that'll knock you on your seat."